Tag Archives: Portland

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 ancestry.com 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 zillow.com.

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.

An Uber Driver Through and Through

Five weeks ago, I began Ubering.  I take fares to, from and around Portland, Oregon in the 2010 Ford Escape that Alice and I maintain in peak mechanical condition.

In order to drive for Uber, I was subject to an extraordinary background check.  Although I have no criminal nor sex offender record, my application did not pass muster for over six months.

Why?  There was a problem confirming my out-of-state driving record.  Over the seven years I chauffeured upscale VIPs for limousine companies in the Philadelphia suburbs, I prided myself on a clean driving history.

After much gnashing of teeth, my Pennsylvania record was checked, and I became a bona fide Uber driver.  [A company named Checkr still has problems with my clearance.]  I observe Oregon’s rules of the road religiously, constantly checking for bicyclists and pedestrians while shepherding a host of passengers.  I no longer wear a suit and tie, nor do I subsist on starvation wages.  Heavens to Betsy, I wear jeans!

If not for Uber, the financial situation for Alice and me would have deteriorated into catastrophe.  My preoccupation remains a deft juggling of available funds.

The Rose City highways

Portland’s city planning and roads appear futuristic, many with multilane turning options.  Light-rail rapid transit trains for a system popularly known as the “Max” are a mainstay for commuters.  Truck-driver unions are not as strong as back East, so it’s usual to find tractor-trailers on the road on Sundays and holidays.

Portland’s City Center is ringed by freeways, so where Interstates 5, 405 and 84 converge, along with the US-26 multi-lane freeway, traffic backups test the patience of usually placid Portlanders.  Get in the way of a Portlander with rosy expectations of traffic patterns, and you might experience the underbelly of road rage.

Everyone here is not mellow, that’s for sure.

Cabbies Despise Uber

Before Uber made the local scene, cab companies were a disgrace.  One of my downtown fares related a horror story how he tried to get his mother to the hospital for a follow-up appointment after she experienced a stroke, but with far more dire consequences than Alice’s.

After half an hour, my confidante received a phone call from the cabbie who apologized that he could not pick her up for another two hours.  Two hours!  Many of my passengers share similar stories of distress before Uber came to Portland.

As I told the Portland City Commission on July 15th, I don’t compete with cabbies.  They’re supposed to specialize in white-knuckle drives.  As a former limo driver, I keep my passengers relaxed and carefree.  That’s what I like to offer as the Uber experience.  “Ride with an author,” I sometimes boast.

Nevertheless, cab drivers and their companies bitterly complain about Uber.  I understand their plight; they are losing money, and rightly so.  With all the technological advances since popularization of the automobile, why haven’t they modernized their systems to head off future competitors?

The Uber revolution

These days, Uber is revolutionizing the way people travel around the country.  Some tourists candidly tell me they would not travel to this city if Uber was not available.  That’s how happy tourists are with the service.  Mayor Charlie Hales and city councilors need to pay attention.

Through careful oversight of drivers for hire, cities have raised the number of fee categories in ever-burdensome licensing regulations.  The maze of regulations bring in money for the general fund – and in certain cases, slush funds.  Those are two revenue sources that help create opposition to Uber.

Jeb Bush saw the possibilities, though, for accentuating positive change, and as a consummate politician, he jumped all over the issue.

Looking Ahead

I can’t predict the future.  I have no idea what will happen here in Portland, but I do know a lot of people will be extremely unhappy if Uber is saddled with unwelcome restrictions or kept out of the metropolitan area.  Businesses outside the downtown area as well as familiar hot spots are flourishing as curious sightseers can check them out without the legacy of unreasonable delays.

Uber continues to recruit new drivers, and eventually the market may become diluted, lessening driver earnings.  Nonetheless, a true revolution to transportation has been effected through the Uber cellphone app, and the San Francisco-based company now secures the financial well-being of its 160,000 freelancers, oops, “partners.”

Until a better opportunity arises, Alice’s and my future hang in the balance, along with other Uber drivers.

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.

A Reprieve of the Uber Kind

The night is darkest before the dawn.

After a post headed “Alice Is Out of Work” written ten days ago, darkness enveloped me.  Everything seemed bleak, hence our GoFundMe post.

Ten days since, light surrounds us, and I am ready to remove the GoFundMe appeal.

GoFundMe post brings contribution

To bring you up to date, an almost immediate response to our cry for help came from a dear friend in Bucks County who gave a $200 contribution.  Alice and I are overwhelmed by his generosity, and plan to respond in kind by writing a firsthand account of nearby pinot noir wineries.

Writing about wine tours was an idea posited by him a month ago, and his donation should enable us to do a creditable job.  Consequently, once it is written, we will send him an advance copy of the story, because writers swell with pride when earning their keep from readers’ help.

But that’s not the biggest news.  In early November, I applied for a freelance job driving for Uber, but was rebuffed by the background-check company that Uber relied upon to validate application data.

The problem?  That company didn’t check my driving record beyond what existed in Oregon.  Even though I am a senior, I was listed as having less than one year’s driving experience.

Uber certification at last

Six months after supplying my Pennsylvania driver’s license information, in addition to attaining a Portland business license, vehicle inspection, first-aid kit and fire extinguisher, I finally received Uber certification to go with the logo we pasted on Betsy, our 2010 Ford Escape.

When?  Last week.  It felt like some kind of answer from a nondenominational heaven after wringing one’s hands in desperation.

Are drivers employees of Uber?

Uber is the result of what happens when technology transforms the car-service business.  The product is called ride-sharing, and unlike a judge’s ruling in San Francisco this week, its drivers are not employees.

I set my own hours: not from a company-mandated list of options.  I have full freedom to determine what hours I work, based upon my own schedule, not the company’s.  What employer lets its workforce do that?

What Uber is doing – community after community – is lowering prices.  Limousines are unnecessarily extravagant, considering what their drivers are paid.  And limo drivers work under horrendous conditions, too.  People at CBS News are still mourning the loss of Bob Simon to a limo driver’s blunder.

Cab drivers don’t compare to Uber drivers

Taxicabs are pricey, too, and their drivers are not exactly pick of the litter.  Meet a few Uber drivers, and you will be able to make comparisons.

This week, I finished working a part-time schedule as an Uber driver and am optimistic enough to write this update.  Hats should go off to Kaiser Permanente who forgave our entire medical debt; that is a huge help.  We’re currently trying to convince Legacy Good Samaritan Hospital to reduce that bill to half its current size.

Here’s the downside of this good news, though.  Alice brought me to Oregon so I could write more, but writing time will now be limited until debts are brought under control.  I hope to add two new entries to the website each week.

Also, I worry about Alice when I’m not home.  Will a new emergency arise while I’m not there?  How can she let me know something’s wrong?

From a positive perspective, being an Uber driver will help me learn more about Portland and Portlanders.  I can explore the area more, and detail findings on this website.

Thanks for all the good wishes and thoughts.  I wish today’s readers had more resources, considering how easy I am self-critical when the cupboards get bare.  But I accept the improved situation as it currently stands.

Stay tuned.  Considering the quality of readers this website has attracted, new entries will continue to appear.

Massive oil-chemical barge launched

Photographs by Alice McCormick.

Amid hoopla and a 20-piece bagpipe band, Gunderson Marine launched a mammoth oil and chemical tank barge into Portland’s Willamette River on Saturday, May 30.  Approximately 4,000 people attended the ceremony to witness a just-completed 578-foot-long container vessel dramatically lowered in 10 seconds by strategically collapsing multitudinous blocks of wood.

Performing was the Clan Macleay Band, a troupe of 20 pipers and drummers from southern Washington and Oregon formed shortly after World War I.
Performing was the Clan Macleay Band, a troupe of 20 pipers and drummers from southern Washington and Oregon formed shortly after World War I.

Speeches and bagpipes fill the air

Named Kirby 185-01, the ship is capable of holding 185,000 barrels, or 7.77 million gallons.  The launching ceremony of Gunderson Marine’s gargantuan floating achievement was bolstered by a work force that grew from 400 people one year ago to a rock-solid cadre of 1,400 today.

The mammoth barge dwarfs a cameraman and tugboat below.
The mammoth barge dwarfs a cameraman and tugboat below.

A challenge from our planet

The effect on the company’s new hires illustrates the single biggest challenge facing environmentalists concerned about global warming: How to keep an energetic, blue-collar work force gainfully employed.

We face increased polarization between concerned activists and hard-working families who face looming unemployment whenever progress can no longer be sustained.  Where are the bountiful jobs that need to be created on the same large scale that the oil and chemical world offers?  Why isn’t there an imaginative investment in manpower being made to save the planet?

The barge descends into the Willamette River.
The barge descends into the Willamette River.
After its descent, the Kirby 185-01 floats toward the middle of the River, where tugboats guide it and a smaller boat wraps a boom to gather up the wood that fell into the River.
After its descent, the Kirby 185-01 floats toward the middle of the River, where tugboats guide it.  A smaller boat wraps a boom around wood that fell into the River during the launch.

We hear that Pembina Pipeline Corporation hasn’t dropped its zeal to manufacture a propane terminal in the Port of Portland.  Wooing Pembina would be a horrible mistake and turn this area – that currently enjoys a “green” reputation nationally – into an ecological nightmare.  We can’t relinquish our defense of natural resources to those who would exploit and neglect them.

But neither can we be simpleminded.  These days, it’s not enough to simply oppose further industrialization.  The same minds that fomented vast technological advances in the exploration of outer space during the 1960s need to channel the same loyalty Alice and I witnessed in Portland’s industrial corridor.

Scott Chill (holding baby) works at Gunderson and played host for our entourage.
Scott Chill (holding baby) works at Gunderson and played host for our entourage.

Creating employment out of planetary progress must be Priority #1 for politicians.  Otherwise, we will continue witnessing the ugly game of musical chairs being played when well-paying jobs are eliminated from families who continue to scrimp and save to survive.