Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Neal de la CCC

The Midwest.

The homogenized melting pot, where the whitest of the white go to live together and be free from the dangers of seeing or hearing about the ‘other’; a city where abstinence only education was the –only- form of sex education, and there were parent groups protesting even this. Prescription drug abuse, affairs and divorce were prevalent.

It was a haven for upper middle class suburbanites, where their suburb is a suburb of another suburb. It was a place where land is cheap and architecture is from the ‘cookie-cutter’ era.

I knew I needed to leave, but I never knew how badly I needed to leave until I did. After a bout with Iowa State University, the University won. I came to Portland to continue studying for two prime reasons: 1) I had family on the East coast, and felt it too similar to home, and 2) Portland was the most affordable option of West Coast cites, that is, cities that were as far away from my cookie cutter house and still on the continental United States.

Portland was a good choice for other reasons. I had decided to get a degree in Volunteer Management. Portland is perfect for that degree because there are a million places in town that utilize volunteers, and so getting experience was easy.

I ended up here for a few reasons. I was already an avid biker, and had been for years, and used the CCC as my bike shop.

No I didn’t live in the neighborhood, but had a friend who told me about it, and I really liked the idea so I decided to come around.

Second, I had my degree, but was not putting it to any use. I was working some entry level job, I think I was a barista at the time, on Hawthorne. The CCC had grown to a point where it needed a dedicated Volunteer Manager, instead of including those duties with the shop manager. By that point I was around fairly often, heard about the job, applied, and here I am.

Four years ago.

Grown like a blackberry bush, man. When I arrived we did our entire volunteer, administrative, and business through the one building. Now we have offices on MLK, that’s where my office is, we ‘rent’ space over on Interstate where we store Holiday Bike Drive bikes, and have the store that is still dedicated to volunteer participation, as well as standard bike store business.

Yeah, the Interstate building we share – well, the veterinary clinic across the street owns the building and rents us the space for dirt cheap.

Yep, that’s the one

No, I’ve never looked in them, I don’t really want to know.

It would just sort of shatter my brain to know we stored all these bikes – bikes that are going to be the first shiny and new bike these kids get – across the aisle from dead animals. It doesn’t stink, and they are filing boxes, so I’ll just go with my assumptions.

The Holiday Bike Drive is a great program we have for under-privileged kids. What we do is simple, we take donated bikes all year from the community, clean them up until they look as good as new, make sure the bikes are safe, and then in one big event we give them all away.

No, we rent a nice big space, put all the bikes in order of size, put some bright shiny floodlights on them and let these kids have at it. When they have found one they like, one of the shop’s mechanics will adjust the seat and handlebars to fit the kid. They are also provided with a helmet if they need one.

It’s a service to the community

You were there on a day where I had to drive. I drive only when it is necessitated by work. For instance, if I know I will have to run out to REI for one of our programs. Other than that I bike everyday.

The bike boxes are a big point of contention amongst bike commuters. I am very much in favor of any program that the city uses to keep biker rights and safety at the forefront of people’s consciousness. I am also very in favor of them because this summer is sure to see some ridiculous gas prices – which always leads to a lot more people on the road biking. This increased ridership is great in some respects- I love seeing people on the road biking. There are some major safety issues to contend with also. The bike lane is only about two and a half feet wide, with no passing lane. The congestion downtown will be worsened by inexperienced riders and experienced riders trying to mesh. I know not everyone is a daily biker, and I don’t expect them to be. But one of my main concerns is biker safety, so I am concerned about how crowded the bike lanes will get. The green boxes will help that congestion though, I think. It will offer a bit of a chance for experienced bikers to get around the newer bikers in a safe way.

Safety is always, always, a concern for bikers. Or it should be. We offer several classes in bike safety, to everyone ranging from children to adults, new to old rider. And I don’t care if you have ridden for three decades or three hours, you can still learn something new in our classes. In the Create-a-Commuter class we take eligible candidates and provide them with a bicycle, a lock and lights. We hope to put more people on the roads everyday.

No, your bike is nicer than the ones we give away.

You what? You commuted all the way across downtown. How can you not wear a helmet and how are you not dead?

Do you want me to give you one? I’ll give you a helmet if you promise to wear it.

I’d tell cars: “If we are in a collision, what is maybe a scratch to your paint is a trip to the emergency room for me. See and respect bikes!”

“Portland is bike-friendly, that does not make bikers invincible”

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Various run-ins

I was thinking about plop art, still. I was wondering if it is possible for music to be plop art; or site specific for that matter.

For instance, if I were sitting in the park and a mariachi band walked up playing jovial tunes, I would consider this a piece of 'plop' music. I'd give it this consideration because I could be in any park, and the songs could be sung to anyone -- and the outcome would generally be the same.

However, sitting in a karaoke bar at the moment, I would consider that if someone were to take a karaoke song and individualize the lyrics -- for instance, free-style rapping or making their own satirical, comedic lyrics -- I would consider this site-specific music.

While the situations are generally similar, being that I don't have control over whether someone freestyles, or a mariachi band walks up randomly, I feel that there are basic differences.

I need to be in a karaoke bar for the context of freestyling through a song to make sense. If someone were to walk up while I was at Mariachi Park, it would be an instance of plop music. I have experienced a freestyle that can happen anywhere. But...

The distinction between plop and site-specific art is hazy enough, by adding the element of music the whole thing is entirely abstracted. I almost feel like once you've moved into music, you aren't exploring art so much as exploring the furthest parameters of what is defined by 'site-specific' or 'plop' 'art'.

I think that the bool function of this and/or would be almost overlapping.

Anyways. I only asked two people about what the Alberta neighborhood needs, and I get two very different answers.

The first woman that responded us was because i switched from the cordial greetings to a 'shock and awe' tactic. As we walked back from our wanderings, a poor, poor unfortunate woman came around the corner and I said ( a bit loudly and forcefully I suppose) "What does this neighborhood need?". No other cues, no hellos for that matter. Her response, after some wheedling was that the neighborhood could use bike-lanes, and perhaps a park.

The next person we ran into (at the bus stop on the corner of 15 and alberta) responded to a slightly more congenially phrased inquiry with: "You'll know what i think this neighborhood needs when I do it." (is he implying that he is going to blow it up? or mine under all the streets collecting the wealth that falls through the floorboards with a complex system of tunnels, not unlike those found in the 1969 classic Paint Your Wagon starring a young Clint Eastwood and a not so young Lee Marvin, until one day the whole gig is up and it all comes crumbling down.

Really, it left me wondering.

Now I'm thinking that if he did that, although logistically it would be more difficult, he should do it in the Pearl. The risks are higher, but really the gains far outweigh those risks.

Maybe I'll do it.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Sans Seriff

I spent an afternoon wandering up, down and around Alberta with my brother. He lived on Alberta in 2001 for a few months, maybe a a half year, and so my idea was to get his take, as an old resident who is not terribly interested in the soci0-economic changes going on in the area.

We parked up farther then I would have liked, around twenty second or so, and decided to stop in every shop that was open, and ask at least one question, or acquire at least one bit of information.
The first two places we stopped were a cafe and a restaurant. Lolo, I believe was the name of the restaurant. The cafe was bustling and no employees seemed to be terribly interested in chatting with me about their neighborhood.

However, I did take a look around, and noted that the demographic of the place was wholly white.

When we went into Lolo, it was almost empty, so a woman I would assume is the owner and I chatted for a few minutes about the neighborhood. When I asked what the oldest business was on the street, she responded that it was probably gallery across the way, which was 12 years old, they were next oldest at 11, and so on. I then asked how the neighborhood has changed since the shop opened and she talked about how many more businesses there were since the 'changeover'. I didn't ask if she thought this was a good or bad change, I had the feeling that her defense-o walls were coming up pretty quickly and I wouldn't be getting much farther with her.

I decided that we ought to simplify our quest, and choose to go only into places where we could sit, get the relatively captive attentions of the employees and could spend a little money to open people up (read: the bars).

We went into The Nest first, Dale (my brother), told me how when he lived off Alberta this place was called Joe's. He said it had a reputation of not being too keen on white customers, but when he had gone there (only once or twice) he'd never been threatened, although he'd gotten the 'eye'.

I talked about the neighborhood with the bartender, how much it has changed and what has happened. He has lived in the neighborhood for 11 years, and worked at the Nest since it opened. I asked how the demographic has changed and he said immeasurably, 180 degrees; but also that there had never been any problems with the old customers -- they just came in to get their drinks, same as always.

His story about Alberta's transition: Paraphrased for ... awesome-ness "Back when we first opened we got egged a few times, that was a pain in the ass. We would have these young hippy kids come in here and shout gentrification and wave their dreads around while being so inflamed, and then walk home to their house right down the street, that they had moved into weeks before. The thing is, we didn't push Joe out (Joe is the previous ((and original)) owner of the bar), he still owns the place. Joe tried to give the building [which also houses apartments upstairs and a storefront next door] to his kids, but they didn't want it. So Joe rented it out. Those little hippies would come in here whining about us pushing the old residents out, and bullying Joe, what the hell do they know, Nest pays Joe, the apartments pay Joe, if anything this has helped Joe."

These are, of course, not the bartenders exact words, but they relay his general feelings.

Next, Dale insisted that Binks was way old, and had been around forever, so it would be a good place to explore. It turns out Binks is only turning 8 this year. Here, however, the bartenders insisted that their customer base has not changed that much over the last 8 years, and insist that their customer base was 'at least half black'. When I looked around, of the 25 people there, zero fit the category.

To cap off the blog, I'll just include a few pictures of one of my favorite 'plop' art pieces. Although, I could understand some serious debate on it being site specific:

(Burning Man, 2006)

Here is the description of the piece found on Uchronia's website:


We are coming back from a time where everyone creates products for themselves, getting pleasure of it. The experience of transforming personal creativity to a unique object being a source of satisfaction. The Uchronia installation is gigantic. It consists of 150 km of timber with a floor span of 60 by 30 meters in the center, and a height of 15 meters. Part of Uchronia involves the reforestoration of an equivalent surface. The extreme dimensions will fill you with awe for human creativity. It's a sculpture of sharing, a refuge for human beings and the recommendation to rediscover the essence of being. Sunlight will be dropping ever changing shadows inside of the structure. At dusk lights will come on in the structure dropping its shadows in the surrounding area. It opens a void to a time of freedom and boundless creativity.

Within the structure, by night, there was a dance hall with live DJ's. The green lighting was part of a light show that would change color every once in a while.

Then they burned it down, for some reason I can't post more than one image on this silly site, so I'll leave a link,
A very long link...

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Community Cycling Center

Whilst wandering about on Alberta, I am always drawn into the Community Cycling Center. This could be related to several things: I used to be a regular commuting biker, but had to give up the practice in favor of mass transportation; I have volunteered with the CCC, taking donated bikes and converting them to their usable scrap, as well as rebuilding children's bikes for the Holiday Bike Drive; and perhaps because I see the Cycling Center as one of the few newer establishments (1994) that is actively participating in the sustainable growth of the already present community.

I have gotten into contact with Neal, the CCC's volunteer coordinator about volunteering with the CCC, as well as asking if I can make myself a bit of a nuisance around the shop, informally interviewing the customer-base, as well as employees about the neighborhood.

Another little bit of interesting happening for me will be revisiting some old digs. I used to live on 15th, a few blocks south of Prescott, many years ago. I remember while we lived there our neighbors house sold to a middle aged white couple who renovated the house and damn near constantly complained about how dangerous the neighborhood was, but how it was getting better.

I guess they were some of the vanguard of the gentrification.

Further, my brother used to live right on alberta, 22nd I believe, so I'm going to go walk around Alberta with him and see where his memories take us.

I feel like I'm lame not having pictures to put up, but I don't have a digital camera, so my words will have to do I guess...