Archive for January, 2009

Skating to the tune of Ethan Rose

January 31, 2009

The Oaks Park Roller Rink in Portland had the feel of an oversized aquarium during musician Ethan Rose‘s rinkside performance on Tuesday. Rose’s ethereal electroacoustic music gave the place an underwater ambiance (listen here, and you’ll see what I mean), and as I skated around and around in the dim light, I found myself feeling like an anchovy, caught up in a big, circling school — or maybe a jellyfish, drifting in directions I didn’t mean to go and posing an extreme threat to those around me.


During his performance, Rose played the 86-year-old Wurlitzer pipe organ suspended on a platform above the rink, incorporating its notes with the recorded sounds of drums and chimes. The 30-year-old Chicago transplant often uses antiquated instruments — music boxes, player pianos, carillons, skating rink organs — as the basis of his computer-generated music. Tuesday’s event marked the debut of his latest album, Oaks, inspired by the very instrument at his fingertips.

To the resonating sounds of songs like “On Wheels Rotating,” “The Floor Released” and “Scenes from When,” I rolled around the rink on bright orange wheels, trying my best not to knock down small children or get in the way of the girl in the blue miniskirt who was skating backwards, lifting her leg and doing something akin to a triple salchow. (When I tried a move — a rolling crouch, executed at what turned into a snail’s pace — the referee told me to get inside the red line so as not to disrupt the flow.)

While I did not win any rabbit’s feet or get a chance to compete in the limbo, I did enjoy Rose’s music. It seemed a perfect complement to the act of rolling around in circles.


Three cheers for the new prez

January 20, 2009


The EastBurn threw open its doors extra early this morning for Obama. The bar/grill at 18th and E. Burnside in Portland fired up four flat screens and a projector, all tuned to coverage of the presidential inauguration, and served free warm croissants, $5 breakfast sandwiches and $2 pints for those in the mood.

Amidst neon signs, skeeball runs and buck hunting arcade games, dozens perched on sturdy stools to watch the 44th president’s 18-minute inaugural address, all acutely aware of the historic significance of the moment and glad that a smart, articulate, principled man will be in charge of our country.

Energy was high. Applause was frequent. When Obama  finished, someone in the front of the room let out a “Hip-Hip…”

Everyone else responded with an exuberant “HOOORAY!”


Elsewhere in Portland, this was happening.

Foiled by ice in the Columbia River Gorge

January 18, 2009


I would have loved the waterfalls. At least that’s what my sister Laura told me as we turned around less than a mile into our hike on the Eagle Creek Trail in the Columbia River Gorge, 40 miles east of Portland. After crossing several patches of black ice over a 60-foot drop into a rushing river — and listening to a string of turned-around hikers describe the trail ahead — we joined the parade of bundled up people and sweatered dogs heading back to the parking lot.


Laura on a vigorous hike

Good thing, too. On the descent, my right foot slipped on a patch of ice, sending me hurling toward the ground. Rather than busting, though, I caught myself in the deepest lunge I’ve ever done. My left knee hovered a mere centimeter from the ice for a few seconds before I pulled myself up and recovered my composure.

“Not the Eagle Creek Trail you’re used to, is it?” asked a member of the Forest Service crew working on the trail, passing us by with a chainsaw balanced over his shoulder.

Under less-icy circumstances, it would have been a great hike:  The Eagle Creek Trail climbs 13 miles to Wahtum Lake along the wall of the gorge, passing through forests of moss- and fern-covered conifers and by a number of waterfalls, including Punchbowl Falls (15 feet high, two miles from the trailhead) and Tunnel Falls (100 feet high, six miles in). We’ll definitely go back  when it’s warmer.

On the way home, Laura and I stopped at Multnomah Falls, a 620-foot waterfall along the side of Interstate 84 — the second-highest year-round falls in the United States and one of 77 falls on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge.


The scene wasn’t much better. We hiked a quarter mile up a paved path to take in the view from the arched bridge beneath the falls, and upon arrival, found a chaos of people sliding around the icy structure, holding onto fence posts, trash cans, anything that would keep their legs under them (the highway signs are true, bridges DO ice first). I clobbered a 12-year-old while trying to make my way past her along a fence. People clung helpless to the handrails as they tried to secure their footing. Grown men bowled over their children. Laura caught the tiny woman who came flying at her.


Fortunately, everyone present thought the situation was hilarious. And the falls was spectacular as well.



Candy Ass Crosses America: A Photo Essay

January 13, 2009

Laura and I road tripped across the country with a fish named Candy Ass made of shards of metal and rusty nails. The sharp-edged sea creature is the work of Greensboro artist Frank Russell, a new acquisition of mine that will hang in my room once I get one. Laura and I decided to document the fish’s journey from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific.

Greensboro, North Carolina


All packed up, Candy Ass warms by the fire before his cross-country road trip to Portland.

Mississippi River, Tennessee


Candy Ass gazes over the slow-moving Mississippi, loving the fact that it’s pouring rain.

Memphis, Tennessee


At 7 a.m. the morning after, Candy Ass is still on Beale Street.

The Plains, Oklahoma


Candy Ass is home, home on the range — but not feeling quite at home.

Amarillo, Texas


Candy Ass poses with a giant steer after completing the Big Texan Steak Ranch’s 72-ounce challenge: eating a 72-ounce steak in less than an hour.

The Middle of Nowhere, New Mexico


Running on empty, Candy Ass curses the fact that this gas station’s closed in the middle of the snowy New Mexican desert.

The Desert, Arizona


Candy Ass looks over the dry Arizonan desert and dreams of the mighty Mississippi.

More Desert, Arizona


Three fish out of water in the Arizonan desert.

San Francisco, California


After taking a much-craved dip in the San Francisco Bay, Candy Ass admires the Golden Gate Bridge.

Humboldt County, California


Candy Ass takes in the immensity of the redwood trees.


Laura has learned to handle her sharp-edged travel companion with care.


Candy Ass and Christina frolic through the redwoods.

Outside of Trinidad, Northern California


Candy Ass gets a taste of the Pacific Ocean and wonders what the schools are like on the west coast.

Portland, Oregon


Candy Ass arrives in Portland intact, a bit wiser and more worldly for the journey, and looks forward to settling into his new home.

And now, for few words on the Candy Ass’ creator:

Frank Russell does not get upset when people leave broken appliances and scrap metal at the end of his driveway. In fact, he’s grateful. The Greensboro artist hammers discarded items he finds around town into sculptures of gape-mouthed sea creatures. At his hand, meatloaf trays become snouts, rubber hoses become tentacles and tin cans become dorsal fins. Piles of trash become fish, seahorses, turtles, crabs and stingrays.

In addition to creating a body of sea creatures that has gained a worldwide following, Russell has recycled nine tons of material since he started making the sculptures in 1999. He is central to the development of the art scene in downtown Greensboro.

To see more of his work, visit Artmongerz gallery on Elm Street in Greensboro or

Everything’s bigger in Texas

January 6, 2009

The waitresses at The Big Texan Steak Ranch in the panhandle city of Amarillo wear sheriff’s badges and leather vests and let loose hearty howdies when you walk in the door. And, they offer a challenge many can’t refuse: the 72-ounce steak. Patrons who eat this $250-value in an hour or less get it for free. (If they don’t finish or cheat by standing up from the table or getting help from others, they pay a discounted price of $72.)

Let me, for one second, emphasize the enormity of this task: It’s 4.5 pounds of meat, and it covers an entire dinner plate three inches deep.


The restaurant is painted smiley-face yellow and lit up as bright as a car dealership parking lot.

While Laura and I ate mac and cheese and coleslaw in The Big Texan (NOT cool, I know), a large man wearing a baseball cap took on the challenge. He sat in the designated spot, under a spotlight on the stage in the center of the dining room. As he cut, chewed and swallowed with the calm confidence of a man who knows he is capable, a red digital clock behind him counted down the time that remained. (We left before the time ran out, so unfortunately, don’t know the outcome.)

According to the hostess, one in 10 participants succeed at the 72-ounce challenge, which has amounted to about 9,000 since the challenge started in 1960. About four women try each year; usually two succeed.

In addition:

* A 69-year-old grandmother is the oldest to have completed the challenge.

* An 11-year-old boy is the youngest contestant to have finished.

* A 20-something named Joey Chestnut currently holds the record, at eight minutes and 52 seconds (see it on YouTube).

* A 500-pound Bengal tiger from Florida completed the challenge in only 90 seconds, though he did it in front of the building and not on the stage.

Laura and I stayed at the old-west-themed motel adjoining the restaurant. We found the rooms worn but clean and full of character.


The bedspreads were patterned like cow skin, a wall-sized cowboy mural hung over the dresser and swinging saloon-style doors led to the bathroom.



In all, we found the Big Texan over-the-top, but much more interesting than the Howard Johnson.

Off to Oregon

January 1, 2009

I have packed up the back of my Subaru Forester, and tomorrow morning early, my sister Laura and I will set off from Greensboro, North Carolina driving west on I-40. We will probably be listening to the She & Him album we can’t get enough of, or immersed in the teenage vampire angst of the book Twilight, which we’re not afraid to admit we downloaded from iTunes.

A few days later, once we hit Bakersfield, Callifornia, we’ll turn right and head up the coast. Our final destination is Portland, Oregon, where we’ve both decided to settle for the next little bit; Laura, to study ceramics at the Oregon College of Art and Craft; me, to write-write-write.

There are tons of unknowns — where I’ll live, and how — but I am excited about all the possibilities in this venture. Plus, I know I’ll enjoy living in a place where excellent trail heads, cups of coffee and microbrews are just a bike ride away.


Oh! And in other news, Laura built me a new Web site, which you can find at Check it out!