Tuesday, April 22, 2014

T is for theater and transportation (Portlandia from A to Z)

If you've read any of my other posts, you'll know that we are a theater-loving family! Theater and concert tickets are a large line item on our family budget. Two out of my three sons have a passion to be on the stage, and they get it from my husband. My youngest son, Nicholas, has a gorgeous voice and natural musical talent, but he claims he's too shy to be on the stage. As for me, I attended a high school with a fantastic theater program, but I was content to stay behind the scenes--working box office, concessions, and ushering. That way I got to see the shows over and over again!

Kieran in his current Kids Company show,
"Serendipitous Siblings"
Fortunately, Portland is full of theater opportunities. Portland was ranked #1 for independent cinemas, and our family does love movies too, but I'm talking about live theater. We have long been season ticket holders at the phenomenal, ground-breaking Portland Center Stage and Jesuit High School (where my teenager Chris has performed in many plays). And we catch many of the shows at Northwest Children's Theater too. As a member of Kids Company Northwest, my middle son Kieran gets a free ticket to each show. (He's in his fourth season with Kids Company Northwest, the two traveling troupes of Northwest Children's Theater.)

We have also frequented Broadway Rose (where Kieran had a call-back recently for The Music Man, but unfortunately did not get the part!), Jane Theater Company (where Kieran performed in the Hullabaloo, his first professional gig), Artist's Repertory Theater, Oregon Children's Theatre, and Broadway Across Portland. We've also attended the Portland Opera and Oregon Ballet Theater productions. We used to thoroughly enjoy the Gilbert & Sullivan productions at Mock's Crest Productions at the University of Portland. And of course we annually attend Shakespeare in the Park, as I mentioned on "E is for endless free or cheap entertainment."
Chris in "Shrek" at Jesuit High School

The opportunities for live theater in Portland are endless. We've been named as an "underrated American theater city" by artsamerica.org and made #21 on Travel & Leisure's list of America's Favorite Cities for Theater/Performance Art.

So glad to live in a great theater town...and it's especially rewarding to see my brave kids on stage.

Portland was on every "best cities for public transportation" list I found. Here are just a few examples: Business Insider ranked it #10, U.S. News & World Report gave it #5, Huffington Post gave it #1, CBS News New York included Portland first, and Wired profiled the city in "Why Portland's Mass Transit Rocks." Read more on the Web site of TriMet, Portland's transit agency. These are some of Portland's transportation options:

Bus: TriMet has 625 buses operating on 79 routes. In 2009, the bus system averaged almost 325,000 rides pe weekday, operating between 5 a.m. and 2:00 a.m. The bus system has 17 transit centers. Since 2006, all TriMet buses have been fueled by a B5 biodiesel blend.
Simple Rail System Map
MAX (Light Rail): MAX, short for Metropolitan Area Express, runs 127 light rail vehicles on six lines that operate through Portland and into several suburbs. MAX connects downtown with Beaverton, Clackamas, Gresham, Hillsboro, North/Northeast Portland, and the airport (you can take MAX from the airport right to downtown). 

Streetcar:  The Portland Streetcar opened in 2001 and serves areas around downtown, including Northwest Portland, the Pearl District, Portland State University, South Waterfront, the Rose Quarter, the Lloyd District, the Convention Center, and OMSI. The two-route systems serves around 13,000 riders each day. TriMet operates and maintains the streetcar system, but it is owned by the City of Portland. The Portland Streetcar was the first new streetcar system in the United States since World War II to use modern vehicles.

View from the tram
Portland Aerial Tram: The tram is an aerial tramway that carries commuters between the South Waterfront district and the Oregon Health & Science University campus. It's only the second commuter aerial tramway in the U.S., after New York's Roosevelt Island Tramway (which we rode on the last time we visited New York). The tram travels a horizontal distance of 3,300 feet and a vertical distance of 500 feet in 3 minutes. 

The Portland Aerial Tram
Cycling: As I wrote in "H is for health," Portland is a huge cycling town. TriMet began carrying bicycles on the front of buses in 1992 as an experiment. Within three years, the entire bus fleet was fitted with bike racks, each carrying two bikes. 

Vintage Trolley: In 1991, Vintage Trolley, Inc., reintroduced trolley service to Portland with working replicas of the historic Council Crest streetcars that ran in Portland from 1904 to 1950. The trolley runs on select Sundays. Rides are free, but donations are accepted. 
Boats: You can ride on the river via the Portland Spirit, Willamette Jetboats, or private boat tours.
Read my other A to Z posts here, and stay tuned for tomorrow: umbrellas (or lack thereof). 
Portland Spirit on the Willamette River

Monday, April 21, 2014

S is for Storm Large, the Simpsons, and sports

Storm Large
Friends and usual blog readers know I'm a big Storm Large fan and have written about her before. Check it out. The first time we saw Storm Large was when she starred as Sally Bowles in Portland Center Stage's version of "Cabaret." She first achieved fame outside of Portland when she appeared in the MTV show "Rock Star: Supernova," but I had not heard of her before Cabaret. I was mesmerized!

Born in Massachusetts, she had a horrible childhood because of her mother's mental illness. After attending the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, she moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and got addicted to heroin. Dragging herself out of her addiction, she attributes music as saving her. She moved to Portland in 2002 and began performing with a new band, "The Balls."

When Artistic Director Chris Coleman convinced her to give acting a try, no one knew how it would be the launching pad for success. After "Cabaret" was such a hit, he persuaded her to write her personal story as a one-woman show. "Crazy Enough" was that show, and it was so popular that it got extended. This is what I wrote about the show back in 2009:
"Crazy Enough" is a one-woman show by Storm Large, about her crazy, messed up life...as soon as I saw she was doing this show, I wanted to see it.
She was phenomenal. Her mom was mentally ill and tried to kill herself over and over again. Her dad was essentially absent for much of her childhood, and she was told at the age of 9 that she would most likely take after her mother. She lost her virginity at 12 and was addicted to heroin by age 21. Rock music saved her life.
She is tall, loud, sexy, gutsy, shocking, sensitive, wise, and talented. I love her singing voice and her songwriting. Mike enjoyed the show, but I loved it. I left the theater emotionally exhausted and exhilarated.
The best moment of the play is this great song, which since I bought the CD keeps going through my head on an endless cycle: "Eight Miles Wide." The best part of the play was when she had all the men in the audience singing along to "My vagina is eight miles wide"!

I was able to see the show again when it got extended--the second time with my parents! It's the first time I've ever seen a play twice in its run.

Storm then wrote a book, Crazy Enough, which I read as soon as it was published in early 2012. Here's an interview with Storm and reading from the book (on Portland's LiveWire show). As I mentioned in "P is for Portlandia and Pink Martini," she has been performing with Pink Martini since she subbed for China Forbes when Forbes had to have throat surgery.

I have not had a chance to write about this in my blog, but this year we had the privilege of seeing Storm Large perform on Valentine's Day with the Oregon Symphony. It was my Christmas present, and I loved it! I was wondering if she would sing "Eight Miles Wide" in that hoity toity (beautiful) concert hall, with the full symphony backing, and sure enough, she did! (She did clean up the words a bit.)

She also performed this song, which she wrote, and that I'm desperate to get on CD! (Just read on her page that she has a CD coming out in September--yay!) Before she sang it, she told about writing it after sitting with her surrogate mother as she lay dying. A woman was led out of the auditorium, sobbing, as Storm began singing. Clearly, she found the story triggering because of what she was going through or had recently experienced. It was heart-breakingly beautiful after hearing her story and seeing how it affected that grieving woman.

She is the quintessential Portland musician, and I can't get enough of her!

The Simpsons

My teenager, Chris, used to be a devoted Simpsons fan before moving onto other things. Matt Groening hails from Portland, and the names of many characters on the Simpsons--Flanders, Kearney, Lovejoy, etc.--come from Portland street names. Groening intended to "name every character after streets in Portland, but we were in a hurry so I dropped the idea."

This is what Groening says about growing up in Portland:

You’re on record as loving your hometown. Is it all love or is there a little love-hate?I loved growing up in Portland, but I also took it for granted. Now, I look back and realize how idyllic a place it was. My family lived on a long, windy road on a little dead-end street called Evergreen Terrace—also the name of the street the Simpsons live on—and in order to visit any friends I had to walk at least a mile through the woods to get to their house.

Beyond the topography of Portland and the names of your family members, did you borrow the sensibility of your hometown or your coming-of-age years for The Simpsons?People in Portland, and generally in the Northwest, think of themselves as independent. Oregon has no sales tax, no major military installations. Portland has turned into an incredibly friendly community with great food, great architecture, great city planning and a lot of beauty. The biggest park in the United States within the city limits is in Portland.


My Clyde!
If our family were more into sports and less into theater and music, this blog tour would be much more focused on the athletic side or Portland! These are Portland's professional sports teams:

Portland Trail Blazers (men's basketball): We used to be big Blazer fans in the early 1990s. I loved the glory days of announcer Bill Schonely, Terry Porter, Jerome Kersey, and my favorite: Clyde Drexler! But the team was plagued with a few scandals, and that made me lose interest in pro basketball. The players seemed like a bunch of overpaid children. But the Blazers have done well this year and have just entered the playoffs...might have to start watching again.

Portland Timbers (men's soccer): We need to get to a Timbers game, for two reasons:
Will Johnson

Portland Thorns FC logo.svgPortland Thorns FC (women's soccer): see above. They are a brand-new team (started in 2013), but in their first season they won the first-ever championship game in the National Women's Soccer League.

Portland Winterhawks Logo.svgPortland Thunder (men's football): Also new, the team just started up in 2014.

Portland Winterhawks (men's hockey): What is most surprising about the Hawks is their logo--that of a Blackhawk Native American. In a progressive city (although it definitely is a WHITE city!), it's surprising that they still have such a racist logo...and that no one seems to question it.

Other sports popular in Portland are dragon boat racing, running, cycling, skiing and snowboarding, rock climbing, etc.

Read my other A to Z posts here, and stay tuned for tomorrow: theater and transportation.

R is for roses, rivers, and recycling

Pittock Mansion
Rose gardens in Washington Park
Two of Portland's nicknames are the "City of Roses" and the "Rose City." Portland's reputation for roses dates back to 1888, when Georgiana Burton Pittock, wife of newspaper publisher Henry Pittock, invited people to display their roses in a tent in her garden. (The Pittocks are also known in Portland for the legacy they left behind, the beautiful Pittock Mansion, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.)

Around the same time, Madame Caroline Testout, a large pink hybrid tea rose bred in France, was introduced to the city. Thousands of roses were planted along Portland's streets in preparation for the Lewis & Clark Centennial Exposition. Portland's climate and soils are ideal for growing roses.

We celebrate our roses with:
  • An annual Portland Rose Festival (which I discussed in Q is for Queens and Quimby and of which Georgiana Pittock was a cofounder)
  • Many rose gardens, but the biggest and most famous is the International Rose Test Garden in Washington Park (the oldest continuously operating public test garden in the  U.S., with more than 7,000 plants of approximately 550 varieties)
  • Rose garden walking tours
  • Rose's Restaurant--When I was in high school, my best friend Ken and I used to frequent the right-out-of-New-York, old-fashioned Rose's all the time. A real New York style deli, Rose's specialized in enormous deli-sized sandwiches and amazing desserts. Rose's vacated Portland in the early 1990s, but now it has outposts in suburban Sherwood and Vancouver. Reading about Rose's made me realize I need to take my teenage son there--it's right up his alley! Do any other Portlanders remember going to the old Rose's?
    The old Rose's restaurant on NW 23rd
    • Portland Rose Society
    • Rose Show
    • Rose City Park and neighborhood
    • Rose Garden Arena: Now called the MODA Center, Portland's largest sports and entertainment centers once was named after our roses. Until last year, it was one of the few last National Basketball Association facilities that had not sold its naming rights. Sadly no more. Most people still call it the Rose Garden.
    • Raven & Rose Restaurant, an English-style pub, got some great publicity last fall when it was used as a filming spot for Grimm (read about Grimm in G is for Grimm and greenspaces).  
      The beautiful building housing
      the Raven & Rose

    Willamette River (taken on one of my lunchtime walks)
    Portland is near the confluence of two rivers: the Willamette (which flows through the city) and the Columbia. The Willamette is a major tributary of the Columbia River and accounts for 12 to 15 percent of the Columbia's flow. It flows between the Oregon Coast Range and the Cascade Range. Humans have been living on the Willamette River watershed for 10,000 years; of course most of that time it was Native Americans who inhabited this valley. The Willamette Valley is one of the most fertile agricultural regions in North America, which is why it was the destination of the Oregon Trail pioneers. The river has more than 50 bridges.
    River at night
    The mighty Columbia--Oregon is on the right, and Washington on the left
    The nearby Columbia River is the largest river in the Pacific Northwest. Beginning in the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia, Canada, it flows northwest and then south into Washington state, and then turns west to form most of the border between Washington and Oregon before emptying into the Pacific Ocean (near Astoria, where my family visited in 2011). The Columbia is 1,243 miles long, the fourth-largest river in the United States. Its main stem has 14 hydroelectric dams because of its heavy flow and steep gradient. Woody Guthrie wrote a song about the Columbia River's hydroelectric potential: Roll On, Columbia

    Read about the lovely Columbia Gorge in J is for Just Minutes Away.

    Native Americans fishing at Celilo Falls
    The Columbia River has been critical to the culture and tradition of Native American tribesCelilo Falls was a tribal fishing area on the river, the oldest continuously inhabited community in North America. During spring flooding, ten times more water passed over Celilo Falls than passes over Niagara Falls.
    But in 1957, the falls and nearby settlements were submerged by construction for The Dalles Dam. Although the tribes received some compensation, their economic livelihoods were shattered, and history was lost forever.


    Portland is on all sorts of lists as one of the country's (or even the world's) greenest cities, and this is partly due to Portland's dedication to recycling. After all, Oregon was the first state in the country to enact a bottle bill in 1971 (we pay a deposit when we buy bottled or canned beverages and receive the money back when we return them).

    The City of Portland has a goal to reduce waste and raise the recycling rate to 75 percent by 2015. Not only do we recycle the usual newspaper and glass, but we also recycle yard waste, mixed paper, and some plastics, and we even compost food waste. Garbage is picked up every other week to encourage recycling and composting. Businesses are also required to recycle.

    We are so obsessive about our recycling that, of course, Portlandia made a sketch about how to sort your recycling.

    Read my other A to Z posts here, and stay tuned for tomorrow: Storm Large, the Simpsons, and sports.

    Friday, April 18, 2014

    Q is for queens and Quimby (Portlandia from A to Z)


    In Portland we have two kinds of queens: one wears a gown and travels through the streets of Portland on a floral float, and one wears a gown and travels through the streets of Portland in high heels.

    Rose Festival queens and drag queens!

    A queen in the 1960s
    Since 1907, Portlanders have celebrated in June with the Rose Festival, and since 1930, a queen has been chosen from a court of high school seniors (princesses) from each school in Portland. From 1997 to 2007, they changed the terminology to "ambassador" but reinstated queen and princesses in 2007.

    What's different about the Rose Festival court is that it's not a beauty contest. The judges select the "Queen of Rosaria" mostly based on her achievements. Boys participate in the festival by being selected as drivers for the princesses.

    The court in recent years
    All members of the Rose Festival Court receive a $3,500 scholarship and mentoring, in addition to a complete wardrobe. It's a bit of a throw-back, really, but Portlanders seem to enjoy the spectacle of the coronation and the appearance of the queen and princesses in the major event of the Rose Festival, the Grand Floral Parade. You can view plaques for all the queens from past years in the Rose Gardens at Washington Park.
    Rose Festival Queens Walk in Washington Park

    Darcelle (on right) with friends
    Now onto the other type of queen...Portland has a long history of drag queens, starting with the most-famous -of-all Darcelle XV. Born as Walter Cole in 1930, Darcelle grew up in Portland and was in the military--marrying and having two children. He first wore a woman's dress at the age of 37 and by the age of 39, he became Darcelle and came out as gay. During the 1970s, the Darcelle XV became a Portland household name--the place to go for drag performers. S(he)'s now the oldest female impersonator on the west coast, and Darcelle XV is the longest-surviving drag club in the country. Darcelle is very active in Portland's cultural scene and received the Spirit of Portland Award in 2011. Here's a mini-short about how Walter Cole turns into Darcelle.

    If you're not going to a show at Darcelle, one of the best places to see Portland's drag queens out in the open is at the Portland Pride Parade. Apparently we also have a Thai restaurant (Asian fusion) that has all drag queen waitstaff! We have a lot of queens, but we have a shortage of drag kings...

    Portland Pride


    (as in Ramona!) Ramona the Pest was born right here in NE Portland. Author Beverly Cleary grew up in Portland, where she struggled to learn how to read. By the third grade, though, she discovered her great love of books...thanks to a great teacher and a nurturing librarian, who encouraged her to write her own books someday. She also became a librarian herself. 
    Ramona sculture in Grant Park
    Her first book was Henry Huggins, published in 1950, about a boy who lived on Klickitat Street in Portland. Beezus and Ramona came next--the Quimby sisters--published in 1955. Cleary went on to write seven additional Ramona stories, along with many other books. 
    The author reading Ramona
    Portland has honored Beverly Cleary (who is still alive) by naming a school after her, creating a sculpture garden in Grant Park (near Klickitat Street), naming the Central Library's children's library after her, and celebrating Beverly Cleary Month at the library. You can also take a Beverly Cleary tour
    Read my other A to Z posts here, and stay tuned for tomorrow: roses, rivers, and recycling.

    Thursday, April 17, 2014

    P is for Portlandia and Pink Martini (Portlandia from A to Z)


    If you don't live in Portland, Portlandia probably brings to mind the IFC show with Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein. If you do live in Portland, you will remember when Portlandia meant only one thing: the beautiful hammered copper statue perching on the Portland building downtown. It's the second-largest hammer copper statue in the United States, after the Statue of Liberty.

    City seal
    On her barge

    Portlandia shares a birthday with me and my birthday sister Nancie--she was installed on Ocboter 6, 1985 after floating up the Willamette River on a barge. (She was built by Raymond Kaskey, Greg Pettengill, and Michael LaSalle near Washington DC and her parts were shipped to Portland.) Portlandia is based on the design of the city seal. She is 34 feet, 10 inches high. If she were standing, she would be 50 feet tall.
    Being delivered
    Back in the days when I worked as a proposal manager, I remember delivering proposals to the City of Portland in that building. We'd usually go in pairs--one of us would stay in the car (so we wouldn't have to find a parking space), and the other one would run upstairs to deliver the proposal, often just minutes before the deadline!

    And then of course, Portlandia appears in the title credits for the clever show that made "The Dream of the
    '80s is Alive in Portland," "Put a Bird on It," and "Keep Portland Weird" household phrases across the country. Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein satirize the weirdest of Portland, and of course it's completely over the top!

    Here's a recent episode, Yoga Class Fail:

    Or Brunch Village. Portlanders love their brunch--and some people actually do wait this long in line! Not us!

    Pink Martini

    Pink Martini is a fabulous Portland band, formed in 1994 by supremely talented and creative pianist Thomas Lauderdale. Described as a "little orchestra," Pink Martini straddles classical, Latin, jazz, and pop. They sing in a variety of languages, too.

    We've long been Pink Martini fans, back to the days when the band would perform free concerts in the park--wait, they still do that! But they also perform to sold-out crowds with the Symphony and at New Year's Eve events and travel all around the world.

    Pink Martini
    We've seen Pink Martini a number of times, the last time at their wonderful singalong concert in Pioneer Square a year ago. They did another one of these recently, but we missed it! The fabulous Storm Large now often performs with Pink Martini, making them even more amazing. I love it when Storm Large and China Forbes perform together, like in this version of "Get Happy/Happy Days."

    They also recently recorded an album with the great-grandchildren of the Captain and Maria Von Trapp.

    Listen to and watch Pink Martini at their youtube playlist here. Here's one of their classics, Amado Mio:

    Nicholas, my seven year old, used to LOVE this one, Dos Vedanya Mio Bombino:

    Hope you've enjoyed this taste of a wonderful band/orchestra, homegrown in Portland, Oregon!

    Read my other A to Z posts here, and stay tuned for tomorrow: Queens and Quimby.

    Tuesday, April 15, 2014

    O is for Oaks Park and organic food (Portlandia from A to Z)

    Oaks Park

    Oaks Park, once known as the Coney Island of the Northwest, is one of the 10 oldest amusement parks in the country. Opened in 1905 to accompany the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition, it is the only amusement park in Portland still in operation. It was built to increase ridership on the streetcar lines. The 44-acre park, located in the Sellwood area along the Willamette River, includes 20+ amusement park rides, midway games, a year-round wooden roller skating rink with an organ, and picnic grounds. Here's an example of a ride when the park first opened (from this article about the park's history):
    "The most dramatic and thrilling of the rides was the Chute the Chutes, a two-story wooden structure that looked out over the eastern side of the Oaks. Patrons were required to climb a set of stairs that zig-zagged back and forth to the top of the tower. Passengers then took a seat in a flat bottom boat that whisked the riders down a steep incline plunging into a small man-made lake below. Adventurous riders took their positions on backless seats with only a polished steel handrail to hang onto! If they didn’t suffer terrible back and shoulder pain after the ride was over, they certainly could tell about the drenching they’d received when the boat splashed into water below, covering any thrill-seeker who dared to sit in the front row of the ride. An attendant clad in rubber waders and waterproof clothing guided the boat with a long pike-pole back onto the track that would haul the boat back up the ramp for the next batch of ticket holders."
    That sounds like a hoot! My mom remembers visiting Oaks Park when she was a little girl, and my kids love to visit it to this day. Here are some vintage photos I found.

    We enjoy visiting the park every summer--Kieran will be performing there again with Kids Company on Mother's Day weekend--and I love to ride the upside-down, scrambling Screamin' Eagle! It's a great park for younger kids, because it has lots of kiddie rides as well as scarier ones.

    My favorite ride--the Screamin' Eagle!

    My kiddos on a ride several years ago
    Organic food
    We love our organic food in Portland! According to the 2008 USDA Organic Agriculture
    Census, Oregon is #5 in the country for the number of organic farms, #4 on the list for vegetable/melon farms, #3 for berry farms, #4 for fruit/nut tree farms. #4 in organic milk sales, and #4 in organic sales ($156 million/year). Oregon Tilth, one of the most respected third‐party certifiers in the United States, certifies most of Oregon’s organic farms and processors. Oregon has 425 certified organic farms, with over 115,000 acres in organic production. As I wrote about in F is for Forests and Foodies, farmers' markets are highly popular in Portland--and many of the farm stands are organic. Oregon State University is one of 10 U.S. colleges that offer organic agriculture programs.

    Outside of farmers' markets, Portlanders also like buying organic food at New Seasons, a local grocery store. New Seasons Market, founded in 1999, is a prime example of Portlanders' loyalty and love for all things Portland! Founders Brian Rohter, Stan Amy, and Chuch Eggert were affiliated with Nature's, another local organic grocery store, but left to start New Seasons when Nature's was sold to Wild Oats. The founders' commitment wanted to create a company that had a "true commitment to its community, to promoting sustainable agriculture, and maintaining a progressive workplace."

    New Seasons now has 12 stores in the Portland area, some in neighborhoods that didn't previously have great supermarket options. The company gives back 10% of their after-tax profits into the community and has outstanding customer service. New Seasons goes out of its way to help its customers, such as voluntarily labeling all non-GMO foods. It's a grocery store that is actually pleasant to visit! I love the fact that it sells bulk organic grind-your-own peanut butter and Tamari sauce (important for my gluten-free husband), which are impossible to find elsewhere.

    And here's the rub: Wild Oats, which was a natural chain, went down in flames. Portlanders embraced New Seasons so wholeheartedly that its prime competitor could not survive. 

    Read my other A to Z posts here, and stay tuned for tomorrow: Portlandia and Pink Martini.

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