Category Archives: Portland

The Bloom Is Off the Rose City

Since Alice and I arrived as mid-Atlantic transplants to the Left Coast almost three years ago, driving around, through and beyond Portland has revealed a downside of the Rose City.  Over 600,000 of the city’s residents – over 2.3 million are cramped inside a flexible, but meticulously zoned, metro area – populate this formerly pristine forested area. Many locals reveal a thoughtlessness attendant to litterbugs who discard fast-food trash and cigarette butts carelessly.  Franchised McDonald’s and Burger Kings are high-stakes fixtures to some of the worst body shapes we’ve seen in America.

Our patio reflects Alice’s care and love of gardening. But what’s next door?
Next door, garbage is piled outside, attracting vermin and flies, and dog waste accumulates in the backyard. The apartment’s residents use the patio as a smoking area — yech!  And complaints go unheeded.

“Portland is the fastest growing metropolitan area in the country,” say a myriad of surveys comparing growth here with the rest of the country.  City administrators wring their hands about a town that grew into a city and now create “zero-death” goals, because driver impatience or carelessness no longer resolutely yields to pedestrians and bicyclists.  Freeways have become obsolete, because of bumper-to-bumper traffic on all roads leading into and out of downtown.  City fathers and mothers speak openly about charging everyone a mileage toll for driving on city streets, enforced by mandatory GPS counters.

Homeless beggars jockey for freeway exits to display their homemade signs pleading for money.  Buildings sprout upward at an astonishing rate, with new construction closing lanes around almost every block.  Artists and people on fixed income complain about being priced out by the workers from high-tech industries, the two largest being Intel Corp. and Nike.

Most bridges across the Willamette River that bind the East and West sides together are always under construction in one form or another, as a nonstop crush of trucks, cars and buses steadily pound the newly added improvements into submission.  Portland’s traffic ranking is worse than Philadelphia.

Driveways inside apartment complexes as well as residential streets are pocked with speed bumps, serving as automated enforcement of sensible speed limits.  Portland police do not have the manpower to enforce restricted lane-changing.  The turn lanes of downtown roads onto stop-and-go freeways outgrew their capacity years ago, and there is no room to add new infrastructure to accommodate exasperated recent arrivals.

The TV series “Portlandia” reflects the Chamber of Commerce image of the area; it serves as “Fake News.”

I have seen the urban side of the Great Northwest here, and the future doesn’t portend well.  As an Uber driver over two years, I shared Betsy, our 2010 Ford Escape, with almost 3,000 riders and now realize this West Coast enclave has capitulated to the millennial nerd rush from Silicon Valley, California.  With matching prices to boot, greed rules the mindset of today’s landlords and homeowners in the Rose City area.  Alice and I are struggling to keep up with rising rents in our complex adjacent to a busy freeway.  And visitors from Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco say it’s even worse there.

Here’s the good news: We found a place that would accommodate us nicely and not flaunt our presence.  Two weeks ago, we made an offer to buy a two-story townhouse (listed as a condominium) in a quiet neighborhood 40 miles from Portland, where the unfettered sound of freeway traffic, police and ambulance sirens will become an unpleasant memory.  I will not elaborate more yet, because we await word from the Veterans Administration to see if we qualify for a mortgage with no money down.

We do not wish to jinx our prospects, because the universe is working on our behalf.

Now it’s time to savor our reclining years.  It’s also time to get off my duff and write a book in earnest about my life.  Because Betsy’s air conditioning system is scheduled for repair on July 17, I will have time, albeit involuntary, to reinvigorate my creative juices.  Alice will also feel more independent with the car at her disposal.

Wish us godspeed.

Our Move Is Complete

Over the last two weeks, Alice and I – with the help of two freelance movers – transferred the entire contents of our two-bedroom, two-bath apartment from Hillsboro to the Tanasbourne section of Portland.  The two of us are now officially Portlanders.

The distance involved (five miles) was relatively minor, considering the nearly 3,000 miles our initial move from Pennsylvania entailed during the fall of 2014.  However, the cost of relocating from Hillsboro was considerably more than projected, and the two-week-long move required a great amount of work on our part.  We’re not as young as we once were.

The Quest, an outdoor marble sculpture and fountain, was carved from a single 200-ton block of marble and situated in front of the Standard Insurance Company's building at 900 SW Fifth Avenue in Portland. The sculpture, carved in Italy from a single 200-ton block of white marble quarried in Greece, was installed in 1970. According to its artist, Count Alexander von Svoboda, the figures represent man's eternal search for brotherhood and enlightenment.
The Quest, an outdoor marble sculpture and fountain, was carved from a single 200-ton block of marble and situated in front of the Standard Insurance Company’s building at 900 SW Fifth Avenue in Portland. The sculpture, carved in Italy from marble quarried in Greece, was installed in 1970. According to its artist, Count Alexander von Svoboda, the figures represent man’s eternal search for brotherhood and enlightenment.  Not all Portlanders look at it this way, though.

The price of progress in Portland

Portland is booming.  The number of people moving into the area has been overwhelming the city’s resources, although real estate speculators are hungrily maximizing sizable financial rewards.  No one argues with the proffered observation that the “Rose City” – also known as the city of bridges – is being San Francisco-sized.

This hookah bar and restaurant on Belmont Street appears built like a gingerbread house.
This hookah bar and restaurant on Belmont Street appears built like a gingerbread house.

Everywhere one travels appear massive construction projects.  Part of the allure can be attributed to stunning scenery as well as marijuana retail outlets that are popping up to market the wacky tobaccy’s mind-altering products starting October 1.  Traffic snarls continuously challenge long-term residents’ commutes and exasperate newcomers.

But back to Alice and me.  Only two days ago, our new apartment was so crammed with possessions that boxes were piled to the ceiling.  I felt depressed and worried.  Fortuitously, a newly vacant nearby garage was a godsend, but our overflow of goods had to be taken there before the apartment complex’s parking lot was repaved – Sept. 5, as it turns out!

As I look around our 40-year-old rental townhome and walk through its two-story layout, the aesthetics of Alice’s arrangements are striking.  In addition, the landscaping here is not sterile as was the case at the Commons at Dawson Creek.

Living in a multi-ethnic housing complex

Our new neighbors represent a true mix of ethnicities, many of whom are working people.  Yes, Virginia, many are Mexicans, but we represent a true melting pot that abhor the divisions being exasperated by a certain Republican candidate for U.S. President.  More about my feelings on that subject in a future post.

Our new digs should serve as an ideal window on life in Portland while I continue to explore my ancestry.  The photo atop this post shows Alice’s arrangement of the home office from where I write.

Writing is as important as ever.  Trusted, valued family members already archived voluminous records of my mother’s side of the family, but much is unknown about my father’s side.  To remedy this mystery, I submitted a DNA sample to yesterday to see where that might lead.

Looking back

Alice and I dealt with a variety of challenges; we accomplished them because I drove for Uber often over the last eight weeks, leaving Alice alone.  If Portland had not allowed Uber into town, we would not have had the necessary resources for a second move in less than a year.

Room arrangement by Alice McCormick, whose sense of aesthetics knocks me out.
Our living room arrangement by Alice McCormick, whose sense of aesthetics knocks me out.

A word of thanks …

goes out to our Farmers insurance agent, Jasper Torrence.  She and husband Zack treated us to dinner and wine at Golden Valley Brewery’s Beaverton restaurant immediately after the move was complete, and both pledged help in case an emergency arose.  Jasper even greased the wheels so we could donate a carful of non-essentials to a nearby Goodwill outlet.

This couple’s Christian spirit went beyond the call of duty.  (Jasper was born into a minister’s family.)  We shall remember their hands of friendship for a long time, and we hope to reciprocate.

During the next two weeks, I will add more segments of “Virgil’s Story,” and more posts will appear on this blog, too.  To those who stuck with us, I say, “Thanks.”  It means a whole lot to Alice and me.

A Freeway View of Portland

When Alice and I moved west to Oregon, we landed in Hillsboro.  We picked a pleasant apartment complex sight unseen, utilizing the guidance of

We thought Hillsboro was a town, but now it’s a city.  And our apartment is smack-dab in a sterile environment owned by Tandem Property Management, strategically situated across the street from computer-chip manufacturer Intel Corp.

Euphemistically called the Silicon Forest, this land originally was nothing but forest.  Today, though, Hillsboro, rapidly approaching a population of 100,000, is clear-cut of virgin timber, as landscape engineers dot once-fertile land into a hodgepodge of cookie-cutter housing developments, franchised fast-food eateries and industrial parks, all pretending to be greener than the rest.

The lure causing an unprovoked blemish upon this part of the planet: high-tech industry, sometimes perceived as “clean.”  But underneath the sanitary veneer is a plague: the promise of quick riches.

This plague is akin to what is happening to the rest of Portland.  An increasing influx of new residents is moving in, and real estate prices are going through the roof, reaching crisis proportions.  That’s why construction is evident everywhere.  What we are personally experiencing is not an anomaly; one of my Uber passengers calls it the “San Francisco-ization of Portland.”

Tandem Property Management sees the increasing demand for housing as a proper opportunity to raise rental rates unconscionably.  When asked for justification for the disproportionate increase, its on-site manager gave a straight-faced reply, “Well, everyone else is raising their rents.”

Anyone who stays here shall bear witness to a future where a landlord ignores resident loyalty in lieu of the almighty dollar.  Too bad they’re ignoring Intel Corp.’s plan to double carbon dioxide emissions across the street.

A different outlook

Thoughtful landscaping exists at our new residence.  Beware of parking where you don't belong, however.
Thoughtful landscaping exists at our new location.  Be careful where you park, though.

Our new apartment, though, will give a true view of Portland: a panoramic window toward the City’s westbound freeway – US-26 – notably called Sunset Highway, because in the late afternoon, driving out of town focuses drivers’ eyes onto a brilliant, blinding sunset.

We’ll be close to friends and near Portland’s Bethany neighborhood filled with energetic, mature homeowners with whom we might share congenial repartee.  We’ll constantly witness the crush of automobiles heading to and from Hillsboro and points west.

Our new abode has an outstanding neighbor: a property manager by the name of Carlos, who has proved so far to be a gem.  Through a few deft maneuvers as well as divine intervention, the amount of our rent increase is reasonable and, after all the toil and trouble that a move entails, offers a realistic view of the real Rose City.

Alice and I will be closer to the heart of Portland, and I will be able to write and Uber here too.  We’re looking forward to the future.

Pinot Noir Wineries Tantalize

All photographs by Alice McCormick.

Two recent weekend trips into pinot noir country served as a primer on savoring great wine.

Four visitor-friendly wineries were chosen at random.  All appeared to put their best foot forward in welcoming curiosity seekers and gourmands with learned taste buds.

Cooper Mountain

Wine barrels and a rock garden adorn spectacular views of the valley below.
Wine barrels and a rock garden adorn spectacular views of the valley below.

Cooper Mountain Vineyards, 20121 SW Leonardo Lane, Beaverton, demonstrated you don’t have to venture far from Portland to discover great wine.  White wine devotees may find its pinot gris, chardonnay and pinot blanc to their liking, but five different pinot noirs gave my palate a complete workout.

Savoring the pinot noir while exploring the effect on taste buds.
Savoring the pinot noir while exploring the effect on taste buds.

Ranging in price from $20 to $50 a bottle, the five wines offered subtle differences that elicited reactions from “very nice” to “wow.”  Seemingly unpretentious, Cooper Mountain offers a $15 five-sip tasting as well as Friday “Neighbors Nights,” where residents commune with nature and each other while enjoying music from blues, country folk and progressive rock genres.

One doesn’t become a true connoisseur without practice, though, and we found the hosts at each winery do their best not to overshadow various vintages with their refined sensibilities.


Could this tasting room be appointed any finer?
Could this tasting room be appointed any finer?

Ponzi Historic Estate, 14665 SW Winery Lane, Beaverton, seemed more commercial, albeit on an elegant scale, with pinot noirs topping out at $100 a bottle.  Alice and I found their wines to be pleasant, but the spectacular architecture and décor were overwhelmingly distracting.  Ponzi organizes musical soirees on Sunday evenings from 6-8 pm that feature Latin jazz, Brazilian rhythms and swing, costing $20 per person at the door.

A comfortable sunny day tasting wine on Ponzi's patio.
A comfortable sunny day tasting wine on Ponzi’s patio.

Ponzi’s highlights are its scenic views of surrounding valleys and Italian inspired architecture.  Popular with the smart set, I felt isolated from it all, wondering what it took to focus on a terrific pinot noir.

Raptor Ridge

"Taste the subtle difference in Raptor Ridge vintages," I was told.
“Taste the subtle difference in Raptor Ridge vintages,” I was told.

Dreams of a fine, more informal winery came true atop a mountain range at Raptor Ridge Winery, 18700 SW Hillsboro Highway, which leads south to the George Fox University-based town of Newberg.

The photo adorning the top of this post reflects the subtle grace of Raptor Ridge.

Jonathan Ziemba, Raptor Ridge’s onsite wine connoisseur, displayed a vast knowledge of fine wines.  His presence adds elegance to this winery, where owners Annie and Scott Shull offer a biweekly “summer lunch series.”  For $50 a person, audaciously sublime menus are prepared by renowned regional chefs known for pairing their culinary delights with the winery’s vintages.

Only 20 diners are allowed to make reservations so as to assure Raptor Ridge’s intimate ambience.  An example of fine dining to be served up by Chef Irene Bonn Laney: yellow lentil dumplings with summer vegetable relish, roasted broccolini and arugula salad, lemon butter chicken with spinach and caramelized shallot couscous, topped off with carrot cake with maple cream cheese frosting.



The "no smoking" sign at Dobbes Family Estate bears sad testament to one of Oregonians' bad habits.
The “no smoking” sign at Dobbes Family Estate bears testament to many Oregonians’ bad habit.

With visions of wine tastings running amuck, I could not end our two weeks of sampling fine wineries without a trip to Dundee.  The Dundee Hills are legion for pinot noir, and we haphazardly chose the Dobbes Family Estate, 240 SE Fifth Street, for a quick tour.

Sure enough, Dobbes’ offerings are highlighted by such pinot noir as well as the Rogue Valley in Southern Oregon.  The fee for a flight of wine tastings is a modest $10, and the wines range between $45 and $65.  Don’t overlook the quality of pinot noir from the Rogue Valley; there’s a good reason Dobbes imports it here.

Joe Dobbes started his company in 2002, and today the company owns 214 acres of vineyards.  Dobbes offers a “family circle wine club,” priced at three levels with tempting discounts on bottles of featured wines.  The surroundings at Dobbes’ estate are eye-pleasing enough to be a tourist attraction, seemingly part and parcel of each winery in the area.

Wrapping Up

The rocking chair in Dobbes' Family Estate lends opportunity for an ideal pinot noir experience.
The rocking chair in Dobbes’ Family Estate lends opportunity for an ideal pinot noir experience.

Yet isn’t it the wine we ultimately seek?  Our outings encompassed four 4-star wineries, so it’s not premature to suspect plenty of visits await us in future years.  The Willamette Valley south of Portland is rich in pinot noirs, and I hereby confirm the wayward tourist will enjoy the experience.  Some of these grapes are becoming legends in our own time.

Ultimately, it's all about the wine: in this case, Cooper Mountain.
Ultimately, it’s all about the wine: in this case, Cooper Mountain.

Raising the Rent

Do you know the meaning of the word, “unconscionable?”

That sort of thing can happen to you no matter where you live, whether it be in the money-desperate East Coast, or the fascinating ambience reputed to be exuded in Portland.

What is happening to us already is taking place in downtown Portland.

We thought we were safe, but the fast-growth city of Hillsboro, now above 95,000, appears to be vulnerable, due to our proximity to Intel Corp.  The demon appeared to us surrounded by Gummi Bears that have the same false flavor as the handmade card above them.

The card read “We can’t bear to see you leave. Please stay for another year” (accompanied by an image of a teddybear).

The card and Gummi Bears, all hung by a piece of blue tape quietly placed upon our apartment’s front door prior to the Independence Day weekend, were accompanied by a faded letter that detailed a new rental price structure.

You can see those prices on our landlord’s website here.

Our floor plan matches that of the Devonshire.  So the real message we received says: Alice and I have until August 25 to decide whether we can continue to stay in our apartment.

If we do, we’ll pay an additional $550 to our current $1,050 monthly rent, more than a 50 percent increase.  And we must execute a 9-12-month lease to lock in that rate.

If we don’t agree to renewing our lease, we will be charged an additional $750 on top of our $1,050 – a total of $1,800 – on a month-to-month basis, effective September 1.

No wonder I was asked recently how Alice is coming along after her stroke.  I expressed optimism in response, but I’m the one who is worked up into a lather.

And that’s how we got to this point.  Doesn’t Tandem Property Management worry what kind of image this stroke of greed exudes while we try to pay off our medical bills?

That’s the definition of “unconscionable.”

Consequently, we are looking for a new place where Alice’s vision can take root and allow us to contribute to a city called Portland.

If you know a suitable place where the two of us can be comfortable, a cat can roam happily, and that contains congenial neighbors of different generations, drop me a line at [email protected].

We pull our fair share wherever we go, and will continue to do so. But the vibes here reek of greed.

Marijuana Becomes Legal in Oregon

On July 1, marijuana became a legal recreational substance in parts of Oregon, and the sky hasn’t fallen in Portland.  The city is calm, and drug addicts are not running amuck.

That’s because none of the alarmists’ worries about legal weed drew more than a collective yawn from Portlanders.  The only newsworthy observance took place at Portland’s Burnside Bridge as the clock struck midnight on July 1, mainly because the Oregonian newspaper encouraged a crowd of mostly well-behaved people to partake.

Portland is not the city of stoners that out-of-towners might assume it to be.  Walking the hip streets at different hours allows plenty of opportunity for Alice and me to witness the sight or scent of wacky tobaccy.  In over nine months here, we’ve seen nary a toking soul.  Whatever pot use there is occurs in private.

Pot sales still are banned, too, at least for a few months.  The only legal way to transfer wacky tobaccy from one person to another is via gift or trade.  An enterprising event called Weed the People took advantage of a legal loophole Friday by charging an admission of $40.  Once a ticket-holder had entered its small venue, the salivating stoner could walk up to tables and meet enterprising suppliers who gave away samples of their products.

A small area was set up outside to partake, where outsiders were blocked from view.  There, fun-seekers sampled newly acquired goodies, easily exceeding a fair-market value of $100.  The relatively bargain price of admission and publicity given this quasi-public event encouraged an estimated 2,000 people to jam a modest-sized venue in North Portland.  A bond was struck there between sellers and purchasers.

Alice and I did not attend; instead, we were making our presence known inside the four-day Portland Blues Festival in downtown’s Tom McCall Waterfront Park.  Blues fans were instructed not to bring marijuana into the park.  Nevertheless, I expected to see or smell somebody’s newfound pot-smoking freedom.

But no, not one whiff.  No passing around of joints.  No smoke wafting from the peanut gallery.

Such a muted celebration typified the crowd response to Gregg Allman’s band on opening night: tepid.  Only after a full moon rose through the two decks of the nearby Interstate-5 bridge over the Willamette River did the crowd begin to shed its apathy.  Have Portlanders become jaded over the city’s reputed weirdness?

The newfound legalization finally was drummed home to spectators on Friday night.  While adding a well-practiced rhythm and blues influence to New Orleans funk band Galactic, Macy Gray sought to wake up the beach-chair crowd with a new song, “Stoned.”

Gray inspired vocal approval, but only after urging members of the audience to raise their hand if they had a good experience from being stoned.  About half the audience did so, giving Alice and me – finally – our first tangible evidence that Portlanders embraced the practice.

But Gray seemed annoyed.  The folks in attendance had earned this legal freedom by living here.  Why were they so blasé on Independence Day eve?

Gray ratified my own observation.  Portlanders disdain partaking cannabis publicly.  Smoking weed here is entirely a private ritual, and the old days of passing the joint seem destined to go into a time capsule as a throwback to the “good old days.”

Portland stands to benefit mightily from weed’s legalization.  The Rose City is the first destination allowing legal marijuana where airline passengers are transported effortlessly between the airport and downtown without ever stepping foot in a rental car.  The Max – light-rail transport – is the new-fangled futuristic vehicle to move newcomers around with some of the regular folk.

The only safe, yet legal, way for people visiting Portland who intend to partake in Oregon weed is to avoid driving.  You can take the Max (also known as Tri-met) from the airport, but know the Uber scene is all the rage.  You can let authorized operators of the economical ride-sharing service follow the rules of the road and give you hands-on treatment.

And know that somewhere, somehow, a group of musically adroit visiting celebrants will pass a joint around in this part of the USA to acknowledge that prosecuting pot smokers is no longer a priority.  It goes beyond political correctness; it’s the right thing to do.

Dressing a Woman: A Tactile Adventure

How can a man live as long as me without experiencing how deliciously suggestive it is to go clothes shopping with a woman?

Two weeks ago Alice and I made our way back to Portland’s 23rd Avenue.  My palate enjoyed the avenue’s delights before, and I was lured back once my taste buds demanded new adventures.

We found the pizza at Escape From New York Pizza as satisfying as our first, second and more tastings.  A triumph for consistency, that’s for sure.  And the price of a large New York-style pie was the same as before, $20 plus $1.50 for each topping.

Not the case, though, for Kornblatt’s Delicatessen.  The “authentic New York style” establishment is now owned by Daniel Sohn, and he relegated the delicious ricotta-laced cheese blintzes to a mere mention on Kornblatt’s takeout menu.  In addition, Sohn raised the price for his previously featured blintzes to $8.95, up from the bargain $5 advertised in a shop banner three months ago.

I began to feel seriously bummed, but Alice and I walked over to Portland’s retail outlet of Carlsbad, California-based prAna (635 NW 23rd Ave.), which specializes in women’s and men’s leisure wear.

Alice admired a long summer dress’s color inside prAna’s display window.  How appealingly unconventional it seemed.

Alice walked in as I dutifully followed.  Once inside, a lithe salesperson named Meghan Callaghan sauntered up to us and unknowingly opened the portal of a fantasy world.

Meagan Callaghan turns a uniquely patterned summer dress into a hands-on tactile experience.
Meagan Callaghan turns a uniquely patterned summer dress into a hands-on tactile experience.

All of a sudden, I was encouraged to feast upon the vision of my woman wrapped inside a celebratory subtle summer dress.  I had no choice but to let my mind go, and tactile bursts of sensation ignited inside my fertile brain.

A few words of explanation here.  Understand that while creating, writers live alone – at least, in their heads – and I routinely disappear from Alice for hours on end while at home.  I appreciate it when she wears the same garments, because routine appearance allows my mind to ponder upcoming subjects for my writing.

But inside this chic clothier, I discovered how a woman rules my world.  Provocative images of how the dress with a flowing skirt would fit snugly in and about Alice overtook my gray matter, and I readily submitted.

This saleswoman Callaghan was something else, too.  As she absentmindedly caressed the skirt’s fiber, I imagined doing the same, but with Alice inside of it.  Callaghan was tempting me with my own woman; what a thing to do!

Is this a specialty of salespeople in apparel shops?  Do they wear nothing but trendy outfits utilizing model-like swirls and twirls?  Are Alice and I supposed to channel Callaghan’s desirability into our own exclusive whirlwind if I buy the dress?

What is motivating me?  Is this saleswoman a specialist in giving other women the means to hypnotize would-be paramours?

Well, I bought the dress, promising to write about the experience in exchange for a substantial discount on its $80 price.  The deal was made right there, and Alice left the store with a new way to bedazzle me and our friends.

I’m proud of the dress.  But as a man, I’m ashamed to admit this is the first practical piece of apparel I bought for a woman.  Other than shopping for Victoria Secret unmentionables, I never knew the erotic thrill attendant to buying something less explicit that the woman in my life could wear.

I guess I’m a bit of a cheapskate.  Also, I’m dense.  But no wonder Callaghan has become prAna’s Portland assistant manager.

She has the power to cloud men’s – and women’s – minds.  And we both left Portland’s Northwest 23rd Avenue with more good memories to share.

One day later after I bought the dress for Alice,  this photographer admires being rapt in attention to friend Pauletta Hoffman.
One day after I bought the dress for Alice, she looks fashionable while rapt in attention to friend Pauletta Hoffman.