asymptotically approaches the flavor of air Monday, June 7 2010
location: northeast Portland, Oregon
The human brain can intellectually know that it is in a different timezone, but its lower levels of consciousness crank away with an awareness no greater than that of any other animal. This was why my id woke me up before seven AM. It was still on Eastern Daylight Savings Time.
I would be doing lots of things today, often with the little U123 laptop, and often with access to the internet. And so much of what I did today was continue to tweak my travelling computational environment, which still wasn't entirely to my satisfaction. There were little things that could easily be fixed, such as being asked for a serial number when firing up Homesite (a piracy-prevention technique that depends on the widespread ignorance of how to use Google). But then there were more vexing problems, such as the desktop reverting to a Windows XP theme after every reboot. I don't know about you, but I resent the patronizing implications of XP's cartoonish blue color scheme and the systematic (though imperfectly-realized) rounding of sharp edges from its windows (as if we're children who might cut ourselves). I prefer uncomplicated windows and I despise unhelpful eye candy, particularly when it comes at a computational price. But solving the XP theme reversion issue proved almost impossible. In the end the solution was to turn off XP's "Themes Service," which does nothing but steal processor cycles to make the screen resemble the indoor funzone at a McDonald's.
But the most complicated computation hurdle of the day was fixing Windows XP's inherently-broken WiFi support. Ideally, XP's WiFi support could be configured the way the WiFi support for an iPhone works; that is, you wouldn't have to explicitly tell it that it was okay to connect to a mystery network, and it wouldn't provide the inane warning that your connection was "unsecure" (as if you weren't the one on the beneficial end of a parasitic relationship). Hopefully it wouldn't provide a button to "connect" while it was claiming to be "connected" (a very confusing problem with XP's WiFi support). Best of all, it wouldn't demand that you type a password twice in situations where you weren't actually setting that password. After much searching, a found a usable replacement for the XP's WiFi support. It's an application called WeFi, and it's trying to be a lot more than a simple WiFi connection application. It hopes somehow to forge a community around the geography of open WiFi hotspots, integrating with Google Maps and providing a means for people to find, map, and rate hotspots. But none of that mattered to me; all I wanted was WiFi system that worked without me having to babysit it. The only downsides of WeFi are its cartoonish interface and the presence of a banner ad at its bottom, though these were annoyances I was willing to tolerate.
The weather had cleared out and sunny conditions prevailed, so this morning Gretchen and I drove to downtown Portland to walk around and then sit for awhile in café in the basement of Ecotrust, a "green building" with High Line-style plantings on its roof and balconies. Then we went over to Pioneer Square, a large outdoor amphitheare that, on this day, was decorated with hundreds of flowers still in their little plastic trays. Pioneer Square is widely regarded as Portland's "living room," though at lunch hour it's more of a dining room. Two different people (an older man and a younger woman who was probably a cross-dressing man) were standing in two different places dancing energetically to whatever was playing on their earbuds. I believe this is what the kids today refer to as a "silent disco."
We went to a famous vegetarian burrito stand called Shelly's Honkin' Huge Burritos because we'd read such good things about it. When Gretchen said we were vegan, Shelley said she'd make it a "safe vegan space" for us (because that's how people talk on the West Coast). Because I like guacamole and hot peppers, my burrito was excellent and bursting with savory flavor. But Gretchen, who likes neither, ended up with what she found to be a fairly mediocre combination of rice and beans in a tortilla. True, perhaps the beans could have been flavored more intensely, vegan sour cream could have been provided, and more salt could have been in the rice. But as you take components out of a burrito (animal products, hot peppers, guacamole), it asymptotically approaches the flavor of air.
Our next destination was the world-famous headquarters of Powell's Books, and on a nearby corner we passed a small group of people who might have been homeless, weird, crazy, or merely unphotogenic. One of them had set up a diorama of small plastic reptiles there on the sidewalk. On the back of one of the lizards a colorful plastic frog had been securely strapped on with a rubber band. They'd been there for hours and seemed to be genuinely enjoying the sunny outdoors. I expected them to ask for spare change, but all they did was compliment me on my teeshirt (which featured a picture of a Humvee labeled with the caption "BUMMER"). Their oddball presence reminded Gretchen of a bumpersticker she'd seen that had read, "Keep Portland Weird!."
Powells was a rambling concrete warren of rooms and catacombs lined with books. Floor levels ended unpredictably and everywhere a barely-contained chaos seemed to reign in a way that you'll never see at Barnes and Noble. Gretchen was in heaven, but I was in the coffee shop attending to some stage of the aforementioned laptop environmental customization. Later Gretchen asked me if the young attractive woman sitting across from me at the coffee shop's library-style table had been there when I sat down or joined me later. With a touch of pride I revealed that it had been the latter.
I'd heard about Portland's "vegan minimall" back on Stark Street on the east side of the Willamette, and that was our next destination. It was a classic manifestation of the retail phenomenon wherein similar businesses tend to cluster near each other to emergently form coherent retail districts (particularly those for jewelery, antiques, and seafood). I mostly just sat out in front of one of the stores taking advantage of free WiFi while Gretchen went from one place to the other to bask in all the veganness. After me, Gretchen was probably the least-tattooed person on the block. At some point she got into a conversation with the guy who runs Herbivore (a vegan clothing store). There'd been a incident recently where the Portland Police had shot and killed an unarmed black man, and later when a white police officer tried to order coffee at the nearby Red and Black Café (a vegan "worker-owned collective"), he'd been asked to leave. This had resulted in a major furor, with tea-party-types "boycotting" and picketing the café and others rising to its defense. Kicking the police officer out of the café had sounded a bit sophomoric to Gretchen and me (well we remember the boneheaded things done by the more-idealistic-than-thou types at Harkness, our hippie co-op, back in college). But the guy at Herbivore defended it, saying that a lot of minorities and mentally-ill people dine at the Red and Black, and they feel threatened by police. That doesn't sound very persuasive, but the Herbivore guy evidently made a compelling case, and by the end of their conversation, Gretchen wasn't entirely sure that the kicking out of the cop was unjustified.
This evening Gretchen and I went with Gilley and her boyfriend Alan to the Bye and Bye, the spectacular vegan bar and eatery down on Alberta. We'd been there twice before and loved its combination of youthful hipster cool, microbrew deliciousness, and not-entirely-healthful vegan comfort food. Once there, we were joined by Isa, Gretchen's cookbook-writing friend, who now lives only a few blocks from the Bye and Bye. I ordered the "Weeping Tiger," a spicy tofu sandwich. Meanwhile the others were going ape-shit about a Frito pie. Isa is a writer of foundational vegan documents and constitutes an important pillar of the vegan community not just in Portland, but worldwide. So it was interesting to learn how she'd come to find herself embroiled in controversy after she came out against the kicking out of the policeman from the Red and Black Café. All the vegans in her community, particularly those who know her through Facebook, disagreed with her, and she found herself writing lengthier and lengthier screeds in support of her position. All of this was a way of procrastinating the writing of the next book she's supposed to be working on, but it seemed important. Gretchen offered some of the points raised by the guy from Herbivore, but all Isa could do was laugh. The people who dine at the Red and Black Café are not minorities or the mentally ill. They're mostly white trustafarians. As for the management of the Red and Black Café, Isa feels they should be ashamed of themselves. Who, after all, did they call when they were robbed some months ago? That's right, the police. And no, they weren't asking for a reunion of Sting's old band. Isa says that when the Red and Black Café people are asked who we should turn to when faced with crime, they offer only a hypothetical "committee of concerned individuals" or some such idealistic nonsense. Welcome to the Matt Rogersian dystopia!
Isa and Alan didn't join us for our final destination of the evening, a music venue called the Doug Fir, where the Sadies would be playing. Gretchen had been wowed by the Sadies some weeks ago at Truck, an obscure first-ever music festival in the Catskills, and had planned the timing of our trip around tonight's Portland appearance. My only exposure to the Sadies had been on Terry Gross's Fresh Air, where they had served as a backing band for John Doe of the legendary punk band X. These days John Doe is doing old-style country music, and I'd found his performance with the Sadies meh at best. But Gretchen had been insisting that the Sadies are totally awesome and that I had to see them.
The Doug Fir is just another great Portland institution, built in the lodge style with enormous beams but with lots of intimate nooks and crannies, populated mostly by rugged-looking hipsters outfitted in retro-grunge plaid against the always-lurking Portland chill. Downstairs, the place where the Sadies would be performing, there were some interesting futuristic elements. For example, the floor near the bar was comprised of a tile pattern of large glass panels illuminated from below.
The opening act for the Sadies was a guy named Kurt Vile who sang slow, emotive songs while strumming idiosyncratically on an electric guitar. It could have easily been terrible, but he somehow pulled off a good performance. I felt like I was hanging out with him in his bedroom back at his parent's place when he was in high school, but in a good way.
Then came the Sadies. Oh my God, I had no idea they were so awesome! Their music ranged widely from surf rock to old country to Tex-Mex to late 1960s folk rock, but all with exceptional energy, honesty, effortlessness, and a dash of terror. Much of it resembled 1950s-era rock and roll, but somehow through the prism of a band like Sonic Youth. It allowed us moderns of 2010 to feel what it was like back when rock and roll was terrifying and new. When the Sadies were done with their main set, they briefly left the stage and then returned, saying that they were going to do ten more songs. Sure enough, they did precisely that.
The music was so loud that Gilley offered me paper napkins to stuff in my ears, which I did. The wad of paper in my left ear ended up so deep in my auditory canal that I ultimately had to use tweezers to remove it.
A roof at the Ecotrust building in downtown Portland.
Gretchen on the horn at Pioneer Square.
Temporary flowers in Pioneer Square.
The scene tonight at the Doug Fir with the Sadies.
The Sadies tapping into that primitive rock and roll thing.
I don't know the names of these songs, but I shot these video clips tonight at the Doug Fir