Saturday, December 31, 2016

happy new year

A very happy new year to my readers!
Rubber side down
Flat-free rides
and Miles of Smiles
See you in 2017!

Monday, December 26, 2016

spring 2017 tune-up schedule

For my Portland-based bike pals and their friends:

In late February I will begin taking tune-up appointments.  
 Here's what you need to know:

-- One-day turnaround; You bring the bike in the morning on Day one, stick around while we go over what is needed,  and pick it up in the evening on Day two.
-- No full overhauls, tune-ups only, please.  I can true wheels, clean the bike and drive train, replace broken/worn components and adjust brakes and gears. Straightening bent frames and opening up and overhauling all bearing surfaces (including internally-geared rear hubs) is beyond the purview of my tiny workshop and very limited spare parts supply.
-- Appointments IN ADVANCE are the only way I can work on your bike. I have a day job.

I have two decades of professional bike shop experience as a mechanic and purchaser.
I'm a USAC-certified Category Four race mechanic and have several seasons doing neutral wheel and pit support at races and charity rides in the PNW.
I retired from the bicycle industry in 2012.
Because this is more of a hobby for me now, I take in far fewer bikes than a shop would, and I charge considerably less than a full-service shop does.
I am taking appointments for spring tune-ups from late February through mid-May 2017.
Then I will close it down for the summer to work on other projects.
I may re-open for a few weeks in early August if there is interest in help with getting ready for Cyclocross season. (Tune-ups, component upgrades, single-speed conversions.)

If you're interested, email me at:


Meanwhile,  Thanks to all my readers for your support and interest in what I write about here.
All the best for many happy miles in 2017!

(below: working at Community Cycling Center, 2002. Photo by Tim Fricker.)

Monday, December 19, 2016

the end of an era: last day at the Annex

Today was the last day of business at Citybikes Annex.
The second location of Citybikes Workers Cooperative had opened May 1, 1995. I had been hired at Citybikes a week before, and my first tasks were to help finish painting and erecting the wall-mounted bicycle display racks.

The Grand Opening party included potluck finger foods, a dance party and live music, including a pickup trio with me and another new co-worker involved and followed by another co-worker's more famous band (does anyone remember the New Bad Things? I guess they were bigger in Europe than here.)

I worked at Citybikes from April 25, 1995 till mid-July 2001, and again from March 4, 2003 until September 24, 2012 (the break was for grad school and a year working at another bike shop).
During that time, in addition to repairing and selling bicycles, I also worked as an apprentice trainer, an instructor/supervisor at bike repair classes and open shop nights for the public, and for four years, I was the lead purchaser, managing a large budget and overseeing the stocking of product at the co-op's two retail locations.

Throughout my entire time at Citybikes, I earned an hourly wage that finally approached Portland's living wage (at the time) in the last two yeara of my employment there. There was no formal health insurance plan -- we could get a "stipend" -- a token amount annually, perhaps $1000 a year, give or take -- which we could spend on any health care we chose, including alternative therapies not usually covered by insurance. Owners earned Patronage Dividends in years when the business enjoyed a profit after all expenses were covered, paid in percentages over a staggered schedule and only in the summer months when cash flow allowed it.

For young, single people without kids, Citybikes wasn't a bad place to work. The cooperative structure meant that decisions took longer to make, but everyone's input was valued. With as many as fifteen equal owners there were, in theory, no bosses (though in practice one could push his/her agenda by sheer force of personality and/or after-hours cowboy behavior, both of which happened more often than any of would care to admit). As some of us got older, married and had children, it got harder to live on a bike mechanic's wages, and some folks left to go to school or take a more white-collar job.

The co-op structure attracted folks whose politics were usually pretty far to the left, including several people who were active in radical politics (including Jobs with Justice, the cause for Palestinian statehood, and even the IWW (the "Wobblies"). Two of my co-workers had been "red diaper" babies, raised by parents who were card-carrying Communists. And one of the original founders of the co-op was especially active whenever he wasn't at work, also founding a co-op leftist bookstore and even, for a time, a "school" for political activists.

In the Fall of 2012, it all came to an end for me when I reached a turning point on my relationship with one co-worker and, as a result, with the entire co-op Board. I quit that fall, and threw myself into a new, completely different line of work. There was a grieving process for me and finances were precarious for a time; but now, four years later, I am established in my new career. The co-worker who had caused me so much grief left the business about eight months after I did. The co-op lost some people and hired some new people, and things went on. Meanwhile, I've been growing and slowly gaining notice in my music career. I know that everything happened for a reason, and ultimately, for good.

Today, I have no bitter feelings about Citybikes. If I have next to nothing financially to show for my nearly two decades there, I learned a lot about bicycle mechanics, human relations, and my own sense of personal identity. While I didn't get rich (or even earn enough to start a nest egg), I came away with other things that still feel valuable today.

Today I stopped by the Annex to say a final goodbye. Today was the last day of business for the Annex, because the recession finally caught up with Citybikes last year, forcing the cooperative to consolidate its operations. The Board elected to shrink its operations, get out of the business of selling new bicycles and pull back on its used bicycle sales as well. Everything that could not be moved to the Mother Shop was sold off at deep discounts. I figured if I went in on the last day, someone there might be willing to cut me a deal, and I was right. I picked up a few used parts, some gloves for my cold reduction project, and a sweatshirt because it was their last one and they were willing to let it go for dirt cheap. I had a nice chat with the one co-worker I knew -- the other two were hired after I'd left -- and after I made my purchases I looked around at the bare walls and the handful of bicycles still sitting on the showroom floor. It was a little strange, and strangely fitting, to be there today.


I wished them well, walked out, loaded up my bicycle and turned for one last look. I helped paint that door orange (the first time, years ago before there was a mural).

 Do you recognize the mural behind me? That mural was apinted during my time at the shop, and I wrote the lyrics for the song "Ten Miles" around the same time. The mural was funded by a grant from the Regional Arts and Culture Council, so it may stay up for awhile yet, which is good.
Citybikes will move out of the building by the end of the month, and then it will rent the building (which it owns) to the Independent Publishing Resource Center (IPRC), a non-profit that teaches people how to create and self-publish their works.

Citybikes will continue to run a bicycle repair business at its original location with a much smaller workforce. I wish them well.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

off-season coffeeneuring: rivelo

After two weeks off the bike and most of a week being sick, I was antsy to get outside again. The snow melted enough today that I felt comfortable riding the BStone around town. Although I was feeling considerably better, I decided to shorten my ride by taking MAX most of the way there and back. The total of four miles in the brisk air felt like enough when I was done.

I hopped the MAX to the west end of Tillkum Crossing, stopped in Starbucks for some coffee and rode across the bridge. It was very cold, maybe 38F, and mostly sunny. A beautiful day for a little ride!

(At left: It's hard to see, but that's the top of a snow-covered Mt. Hood in the distance.)

I rode to Rivelo, where a delayed holiday event was taking place. It had been delayed by a day because John [Bennett, Rivelo's founder and owner] had taken a bad fall yesterday and ended up breaking his wrist.

He was in good spirits, considering the pain meds and egg nog on hand (plus optional bourbon or rum add-ins for the grown-ups).

I had a delightful time chatting with John and Darby, and enjoyed meeting two delightful little boys who are full of energy, sweetness and giggles.  While I was there, I took a few pictures and got myself a limited edition Shawn Granton-designed Rivelo hankie.

I also picked up a new elastic netting for my bike basket. The netting on the BStone's basket, originally designed for a motorcycle, was too big and had begun to lose its spring. Basket netting is VERY handy, allowing you to overstuff your bike basket while also leaving key things grabbable on the ride (like hankies or gloves, for instance). A useful item available at Rivelo and lots of other bike shops around town.

(Above: the Rosco Bubbe frameset, a wacky design by Grant and Co. Honestly, I'm not sure what it's for, except maybe the tallest riders.)
John, gesticulating carefully while waiting for the pain meds to kick in. I advised him to lay in a supply of newspaper delivery baggies; speaking from experience, they're perfect for covering an arm cast during a shower. Just slip it on, rubber-band the opening to your arm, and go.)
John isn't sure what will need to happen. He's seeing a specialist and hopefully will know more soon. But breaking bones sucks. So if you're in town, stop by the shop during biz hours (check the web site), say hello and cheer him up. He's good people and I like what he's about.

 I rode back over the bridge, caught MAX back over the NE Portland and rode home before it got dark.

(Left: my latest bike-dedicated coffee mug. It holds less coffee, but it will do. And my doc says I ought to think about consuming less coffee anyway. Hmm.)

Below: the new hankie. I got it because I like everything Shawn draws and I wanted to support his art.

It felt SO GOOD to get out today, if only for a couple of hours and even though I wasn't entirely done coughing out the last phase of my cold. Still, I will be glad when the temps go up tomorrow, back to above 40F. Even if it's raining it will be better for riding in.

Friday, December 16, 2016

more light over here, please

(This is a cross-post from

This year, Chanukah begins a few days after the Winter Solstice, and overlaps with Christmas and the secular New Year.

The first night of Chanukah is Saturday, December 24. I love the juxtaposition of all these festivals of light. With every candle we kindle and every log we burn in the fireplace, we are adding light to a dark season that desperately needs it, especially this year.

Another way we can add light is through sharing the healing power of music. That's why I'm honored to join hundreds of other musicians and music-lovers in a new project called Harmony In Unison. This live online concert series begins on Facebook during Chanukah, and I invite you to join the group so you can enjoy the warmth and spirit we hope to project through LIVE online performances. Created by talented Jewish artists Beth Schafer and Stacy Beyer, the group is designed to showcase artistts who will perform their original works in a live feed five nights a week, from late December through at least the early spring. There will be no ads, no sales pitches and no persuasion of any kind. This is just a freewill offering of heartfelt music for all to share.

It is hoped that, through sharing music this way, we will help each other find what we need to move forward together to work for peace and justice -- for ourselves, each other, and everyone we don't yet know.

I will perform LIVE on Sunday, January 29, at 5PM Pacific Time.

To catch this and other performances, simply sign up and join the group here:

Once you've been accepted into the group, simply check the calendar, gather friends around the largest computer screen you have, and watch live concerts in the comfort of your home. Concerts will last anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour, with most averaging 30 to 45 minutes in length.
Some music will be familiar, much will be brand new, and all of it will be a gift to you, to brighten the dark days of winter and lift the sagging spirits of so many who need it.
Please join me and some truly amazing musicians on this journey of hope, love and peace. And may the warmth of family, friends and the light we kindle and grow keep us all warm and safe during the darkest days.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

wacked out on cold medicine and reality

I've been off bicycles for over a week and a half, due to work-related travel and then a really nasty cold that has laid me low for several days.
On top of that, Portland got some snow. Not much -- a couple of inches at most -- but enough to paralyze the city and start winter break from school a couple of days early.
So I've been home, hacking and coughing and unable to do much else.
Except browse the interwebs and listen to the news on the radio.

Maybe that hasn't been such a great idea.

Because between all the mayhem of the world and my own thoughts running amok, nothing good is running through my brain today:

1. Aleppo has fallen to the Syrian army. Other than a few alarmist posts on my Facebook feed, no one of any great power or importance in the world is saying or doing anything about it. And hundreds of thousands who survived the bombings will die trying to get out of Syria.

2. The homeless encampments all over Portland and hundreds of other US cities are still there. Perhaps some people have managed to go inside, or have left for warmer places; but most are still down on their luck and slowly freezing to death. And unless we are all willing to take these people into our private homes (which I admit is a huge risk, considering just how many are suffering from untreated mental illness), they will stay where they are, because the city has nowhere to house them safely -- and no political will to do anything about it.

3. I took another trip by airplane last week, for work. The work was rewarding and I grew from the experience and I am generally quite grateful for all of that. The only thing is that my worry about my expanding carbon footprint refuses to go quietly. It bugs me all the time, and I cannot shake it.
I know that this is what I've chosen to do for a living now -- travel the country and make music -- but the whole travel-the-country part is weighing heavily on me nearly all the time. It feels like I am ignoring something important about what I value in the world, even as I try to spread goodness with something else I value in the world. It's a huge conundrum and I don't have any sense of resolution about it.

4. I have had all sorts of thoughts about death lately -- specifically, my own. I'm not suicidal or anything -- I'm pondering the existence of my life, and what happens after I'm gone. Old questions about the life of the soul that I haven't pondered this deeply since my mother's death twenty years ago are popping up again. What happens to my bethness when I'm gone? Am I taking up space on the earth by my lifestyle, health needs and other unsolvable issues? I sometimes worry that I've lost sight of why I'm here and what I'm supposed to be doing. And I wonder about an afterlife.
My last stint serving as a Shomrah (guardian) at the funeral home left me feeling incredibly drained and exhausted for a couple of days afterwards. I don't know what that means but I feel a need to pay attention to it.

5. My Crohn's is actually changing and probably getting gradually worse. Going to the bathroom requires effort that leaves me feeling noticeably tired right afterwards. My medication isn't effective and I will have to consider other options (none of which I could afford if the Affordable Care Act goes away with the new administration).  Getting sick with an otherwise ordinary cold greatly affects the severity of my fatigue. And that, too, makes me think about my mortality in sharper focus.

6. I honestly haven't felt like riding a bike a whole lot since the days turned wet and cold. I used to think riding in the rain was no big deal, and now I tend to avoid it in spite of my cycling history. Is this my involuntary response to getting older, to some kind of self-preservation that just happens? It doesn't feel entirely conscious on my part, even though I'm aware that it's happening. I am not sure where I'm headed physically, emotionally or spiritually these days. I wonder if, on some level, I am beginning to feel the beginning of my downward slope in this life.

I don't feel terribly morbid about any of this most of the time. Rather, it feels like something that is happening within me, rather than something I am consciously making happen. My will has little to do with it. All I know is that I am incredibly tired -- fatigued, really, unable to make myself feel anything energetic inside right now. And I suspect there's much more to it than simply having a bad cold or the interaction of that bad cold with Crohn's.

I can still look at pictures of bicycles, but the idea of going out on a cold day and riding one does not inspore me in the slightest. When I consider that I stopped racing only four years ago, the change in my body and mind is surprising.

This blog may eventually become less about bicycles and more about everything else. If you find this to be the case and you decide not to hang with it, I understand. Enjoy the ride, wherever you go. Meanwhile, I will rest and wait for things to get better; and hopefully next week will be a little drier and I'll be well enough to go for a short ride. Cheers.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Off-Season Coffeeneuring (OSC). Because, coffee. And bikes.

Since I'm traveling a fair amount this winter, I'll be trying to get in as much bicycle riding as I can when I'm home.
This is harder than it used to be, both because of not having a "job" to commute to, and because the darker days and the rain are harder for me to live with than they used to be.
So when it's not raining and there's daylight, I am making myself get outside, even if it's only for an hour or two, and I pedal my bike around town. If I have errands to add that makes it easier to go farther than my neighborhood; but even if I don't it's still nice to get out and ride. Yesterday's ride was under mostly sunny skies, cool enough to need a heavy sweater but nice in the sunny spots.

The official Coffeeneuring Challenge is in the books for another year. So now I'm in the off-season. Like many devotees of both bicycles and coffee, that just means Off-Season Coffeeneuring, or OSC.
Yesterday it was a quick trip up to New Seasons Market on N. Interstate Avenue, where I enjoyed a cup of the good stuff (Nossa, of course). Then, I took the scenic route home, riding over to Ainsworth so I could take a loop through Peninsula Park.

On the way over the freeway, I had to stop. It was around 3:30 in the afternoon. And the northbound lanes of I-5 were backed up as far as the eye could see. I admit I felt smug, but only for a moment. The enormity of the imbalance -- between my decision to ride a bike and the choices so many thousands made every day to drive a car -- sank in. Riding my bike won't save the planet. But if I can do anything at all to reduce my footprint and it inspires others to reconsider their options, perhaps together we can all stall the end of the world a little bit.

So I snapped what is probably the last decent photo on my ancient digital camera:

I stood there for a good ten minutes, watching the traffic below me creep northward to Vancouver.
The Portland metro area is estimated to grow by another million people in less than ten years' time.
Considering how little affordable housing is left in town and the fact that the formerly-dying suburbs are now crowding with an overflow of the working poor (all priced out of inner-eastside Portland), I'm not sure where on earth a million more people think they're going to live when they arrive.

At least when Sweetie and I are ready to sell our crappy little workman's bungalow -- in, oh, thirty years or so -- we're virtually guaranteed a buyer. That's something.
Meanwhile, I'll keep riding, through fatigue, illness, aging and bouts of depression, and through the rain as long as I can.
Today's ride took me up to the cheap bento place on Killingsworth. I had a full punch card so my $4.99 teriyaki bowl was free today (good thing, because money's tight right now). I made a loop past Community Supported Everything and its free closet, and stopped in at the Community Cycling Center to poke through the bins. As I headed home, the sunset was a beautiful parade of blue, purple and pink fading down to red through the clouds. I tried to take pictures, but my camera is basically a goner now. (sigh)
Tomorrow, I'll look for another coffee place to nurse a cup of the good stuff.
See you on the road.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

back to the bike and dressing for the weather

After two weeks on tour, during which I enjoyed a fair bit of awlking but did not ride a bicycle once, I'm glad to be back home with my Sweetie, the cats and my bikes.
However, I've also com home to a sudden drop in temperatures, and making the adjustment to late fall/early winter is proving a little difficult.
I'm looking forward to a dry day tomorrow during which I'll be commuting to a couple of Hebrew students and running some lovely urban errands by bike. Wool socks and underlayers will be the order of the day.

Speaking of synthetic fibers,  Patagonia finally admits, after years of making outdoor clothing using new and recycled synthetic fibers, that there just might be a little problem with that.
I sort of gave up on most synthetics years ago, after realizing that (a) if I'm not allergic to wool there's no reason to avoid it; and (b) cotton still feels delightful next to the skin in all but the coldest weather. Plus, wool socks are the nicest things I can do to my feet.
But Patagonia, Rapha and a host of other chi-chi clothing companies still push the plastics, I guess because they can. So if you're contemplating buying Yet Another Synthetic Fleece this year, reconsider and maybe look for something made of natural fibers instead. Extra points if you scavenge instead of shop.

Speaking of scavenging -- don't be squeamish! If you spot a wool garment soaking in the rain because it's been sitting in a "free" box for a week, it can still be taken home, cleaned and used. I carry an extra plastic bag with me for just this purpose and scored a Pendleton wool shirt that way. It was a little big for me and missing most of its buttons. Machine washing in hot water and machine drying, plus replacement buttons, has turned this into a winter shirt I wear a lot when the weather turns cold.
No smell, no stains, no problems.

So tomorrow I'll head out and see what I can find. No pix for awhile, because the camera that my friend scored for free and gave me a decade ago has pretty much died and I don't have another camera yet. Be patient. Nice photos will return.

Happy riding, and bundle up. Winter is coming.
(Below: wool cycling cap by Kucharik of California. Made in USA, fits under most bike helmets; sometimes can be found discounted on eBay from time to time. Merino wool is soft and long-lasting.)

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

2016 Coffeeneuring Challenge extra credit: Townshend's Tea

This morning I rode up to Alberta Street to meet a dear friend and catch up. She's not a coffee drinker, so she suggested we meet at Townshend's Tea. When I offered a lukewarm response, she suggested I try some sweet chai. I agreed.
The morning was absolutely beautiful, with cool, crisp air and tree-lined streets still clinging to the last of their leaves. Knowing that I wouldn't be riding a bike much, if at all, during my upcoming travels, I relished the morning ride, even with the last of the rush-hour throng.

I arrived before she did, parked my bike and waited for the tea shop to open. Next door is a bakery called Back To Eden, which offers only vegan and gluten-free baked goods. I felt sorry for them. I couldn't imagine my life without gluten in it. Still, its good for folks to have options, and the goodies in here look mighty tasty in spite of lacking butter. Could be worth a trip next time.

When my friend arrived, we went inside and ordered two cups of sweet chai. It was surprisingly tasty, and contained enough caffeine to make it worth my while.

There's a local cat who thinks that the tea shop is a second home, and she wandered in and out while we enjoyed our drinks. She seemed friendly enough, but we were both of the mind that animals don't beling in restaurants unless they're bona fide service dogs.
Still, she was cute and friendly; before I left I managed to snap a couple of photos of her.

So I think that wraps it up for my Coffeeneuring Challenge this fall. I leave tomorrow for a two-week mini-tour in the Midwest and will probably not have time to go for a bicycle ride.
Plus, as you may be able to tell from these photos, my ancient digital camera is running on fumes and will probably die very soon.

Hopefully, before Errandonnee Season begins I'll have procured another cheap digital camera.

Meanwhile, special thanks to Mary Gersemalina (aka Chasing Mailboxes) for creating the Challenge and happily encouraging all of our rides, long or short.

Happy riding.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

2016 Coffeeneuring Challenge, extra credit: Nossa Familia (Back to the Mothership)

I've officially fulfilled my seven rides for the Coffeeneuring Challenge this year, but I had to get some coffee for my upcoming trip. Because my colleagues live in places where the best coffee can be had at their local Dunkin' Donuts, and that is the pinnacle of sad coffee. I feel it's my job to help them find better coffee.
So I went into town and stopped in at Nossa Familia for a cup of goodness.
And a bag to take to my conference next week. Hopefully, there will be a spare coffeemaker so I can introduce my friends to real coffee.
(And reusable coffee cups. Because some of them haven't gotten the memo yet.)

If Nossa is new to you, check it out.
They do mail order.

And if you're in the Portland area, Nossa can be found in many restaurants and sold by the bag at New Seasons markets.
In the absence of smell-o-vision, an evidence photo will have to do. My cup, after being filled with Teodoro's Italian Roast. Trust me, this is the good stuff.

Friday, October 28, 2016

2016 Coffeeneruing Challenge 7: The story of Fred Meyer

My final Coffeeneuring ride was a combined coffee and errand trip to the Fred Meyer store in the Hollywood neighborhood of NE Portland.
Sweetie needed a few things we could only find there, and I needed a little pick-me-up after my Hebrew lesson. So off I went.
It's now dark enough in the evenings that I need lights to ride. And cool enough to add a flannel shirt under my jacket.

Fred Meyer is a chain of stores based in Oregon and Washington, founded by Fred G. Meyer in the 1920's and growing into a regional institution. "You'll Find it at Freddy's" was a slogan I grew up with.
The chain merged with Kroger about twenty years ago, but kept its name and some of its regional identity (though the store-brand toothbrushes say Kroger now). It remains a one-stop shop for groceries, household items, office supplies, furniture and sporting goods -- the larger stores still sell guns and hunting gear. And it remains a fixture in many Portland neighborhoods, smaller and far more beloved than its competitors (WalMart and Costco).
The Hollywood Freddy's sits next to a park that is not lit well; I noticed a couple of folks sleeping on benches there as I pulled into the huge parking lot and looked for the bike racks at the grocery end of the building.

On my way to finding a self-serve coffee sampler pot, I noted that Halloween decorations were out in full force.
And so was the Halloween beer.
After finding some coffee and giving my thermal cup a couple of sample squirts -- it turned out to be some awful "French Vanilla" facsimile and I was glad I took only a taste. Sometimes "Shade Grown" means, well, nothing.

I got the things on my shopping list, and made my way to the checkout line. Along the way, I counted at least a dozen shoppers wearing bicycle helmets, and smiled.

Freddy's is following the example of other grocers in providing healthy snacks for kids -- but they don't frown if adults help themselves, too.
I grabbed a banana to get rid of the taste of the coffee, and wolfed it down in line.

It was not an unpleasant trip, if only because I knew what I needed and where to look for it all, and because I could leave easily when I was done.
(Word to IKEA: People actually want to shop and LEAVE. Stop making stores that are like mazes where you feel like you're trying to escape a minotaur.)
I loaded up my bike, unlocked, and enjoyed a lovely 7-mile ride home through residential streets with fall leaves backlit by street lights. I loved riding through my city on a cool fall night. I loved that, in spite of all the hipsterication, there were still places where I could feel rooted and familiar and at ease, places with funk and grit and some age to them that felt like they'd be around for awhile yet. Gentrification is real, but so are the parts of Portland that have not yet succumbed. I am grateful.

So that's it for Coffeeneuring this year. It's been an interesting run, and an eye-opening approach.
I'll keep riding and drinking and enjoying. Hope you will too.

Monday, October 24, 2016

if i vote and nothing really changes, then what?

Tonight I will join my friends to celebrate Simchat Torah (or, if you're above a certain age, "Simchas Toirah"), a festival literally translated as The Joy Of Torah.
I study Torah regularly, both on my own and weekly with a group of friends. Jews are told to "turn it over and over, for everything is in it."

My life is deeply enriched by this study habit.
And yet, when we are called upon to reflect the truth we find in there back to ourselves in real life, and back to our friends and neighbors through our words and actions, what does it look like?

This election cycle has been brutal for my psyche and my soul. It hasn't played well for some of my relationships, either.
This year, voting felt far less like a privilege and far more like a duty, one that made me want to wash my hands afterwards with shop-strength Borax soap and hot water. I sent off my envelope last week the day after I got it, and felt only drained.
Worse than voting was in reading the earnest posts of so many of my friends and colleagues who still believe their vote matters greatly on every level, and that not casting a vote for the highest office in the land is tantamount to driving while drunk.
(Believe me, if I could drink, I would have poured myself a few shots of Chopin half an hour before filling in those stupid little black dots. Maybe it would have calmed me down.)
But the truth is that I feel like I was born in the wrong age for my vote to count more than as a cipher. Voting for me has become an act of social subterfuge, something I do to make my friends and acquaintances think I'm on board with the program. Voting is what Americans do, especially Americans with a hard-on for flag-waving nationalism, Americans who at least pretend that they believe in the enterprise.
The problem is that, since before I was old enough to vote, the enterprise has been rigged, has been bought and sold a thousand times over by intersts with money and power, has been and is being manipulated by those intersts to help insure a desired outcome that my little vote will not influence in any meaningful way.
If I want to influence the movement of the needle as regards societal values, the way I know best is to live my life and hope it influences others who see what I do.
At the local level, perhaps, my vote can still count -- especially if I live in a small town.
There's an after-school youth recreation program in a small town on the central Oregon Coast today because I registered to vote in Lincoln County and voted for it while I lived there over twenty years ago. Once it got established, people got used to having it and voted the bonds to fund it again and again every few years.
But that outcome is a lot easier to bring about in a town of less than two thousand people.
It's much harder to bring it about in a city of seven hundred thousand. So the powers that be have to spend so much money on their arguments as to make the whole thing seem ridiculous.
We could do a lot more to bring about meaningful change if we diverted those advertising dollars -- millions of them -- to funding job creation and educational programs to reduce poverty and homelessness and hunger.
But no, we need to prop up those important careers in advertising and social media. We have to keep telling our kids that a college degree is your ticket to adulthood. We have to allow our universities to invest in the stock market (because clearly, recruiting students on Financial Aid and reducing your faculty to untenured part-timers without benefits or job security just isn't bringing in the big bucks like you thought it would, right? )
We have to keep the machine running at all costs.

So I vote. 
But really, if I'm being honest, I only vote anymore as a form of social subterfuge, to make folks think that I'm on board with this gigantic glacier of spin and money and wasted potential that our political system is today. Because if anyone suspects that I'm not on board with it, that given the choice I'd drop off an empty ballot and tell the presidential candidates to go jump off a bridge, well, there goes my ability to find employment and to get along with my earnest sign-waving, flag-waving neighbors and to maintain my role in the social order.
(Below: SE 8th and Oak streets, Portland, Summer 2016)
The social order is a mess right now. The proof of that is the four thousand people going to sleep on Portland's sidewalks every night, with no real plan in place to create safe housing and restore mental health treatment for them all. The proof is in the humiliation I still feel when I have to reapply for food stamps every six months -- humiliation I know I shouldn't feel because being this broke isn't my fault, it's the fault of a social order that decided long ago some kinds of work are more "valuable" than others and, well, hey -- I didn't become an advertising executive because back then I wasn't thinking about which job would earn me the most money, because I decided to follow the path my gifts and aptitude led me down instead. Sorry about that.

My casting a vote for President of the United States in 2016 will not change ANY of that.
And I am weary of feeling pressured to act as thought it might.
So I voted.
And I wrote in my choice for president, someone who wasn't on the ballot but who deserves my vote because we share a similar vision of how the country could get back on track. 
And then I voted all the down-ticket things, and then I sealed it in an envelope and sent it off.
I wish to heaven I could be done, that I could wake up and have it be January 31 already so that the new President Figurehead could be installed and we could all just get back to our lives again and calm this crap down. Because this country will continue to be for sale to the highest bidder, and I still won't be allowed into the auction by the bouncer, and I may as well get on with doing what matters, making the change for good that I can make.
Because I learned a very long time ago that my ballot won't change the world nearly as much as my own two hands can.
Back to work. Party's over, people, nothing to see here, move along.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

2016 Coffeeneruing Challenge 6: Life, death and coffee

I'm a member of the Jewish Burial Society here in Portland. That means that when someone in the Jewish community dies and has stipulated that they want a ritually correct Jewish burial, there are volunteers who take turns preparing the deceased for burial, and afterwards other volunteers take turns sitting with the deceased (whose body is prepared and sealed in the coffin) in the waiting room. I serve as a Shomrah, or Guardian. I take a shift (usually 60 to 90 minutes) and sit with the coffin while I read psalms or sit in silent meditation, until the body is taken away for burial in a Jewish cemetery.

I am glad to do this mitzvah, or commandment, even though it's the one thing that the person can never thank me for, the ultimate in paying it forward. I am glad to help bring some comfort to the family, who know that their loved one will remain attended and cared for, usually by complete strangers, right up until the burial.  It also brings things back into a really grounded perspective whenever I'm in danger of stressing too much over the small stuff. Because, as nice as this life can be, we're all gonna die someday. I figure I may as well keep it in mind periodically.

I always need a little time afterwards, to collect myself and return to density. Usually this means taking a scenic bike ride around the neighborhood near the funeral home, until I feel calm and ready to return to mundane daily life again. After an hour of riding, I'm also usually hungry. So after my shift and my head-clearing, I rode up the street to Cup & Saucer Cafe.

I grabbed the latest issue of Willamette Week, just out today, and a menu and sat down in a booth. And then, I laughed out loud.
 It was perfect, really. The cover story was a feature about a couple of people in Portland who specialize in helping folks process death and dying, either as the one who will die or as the one who is left behind.

(Actually, not a bad set of articles. Check 'em out online.)
Cup & Saucer was around when I moved into the neighborhood over twenty years ago.
Even back then, breakfasts weren't exactly cheap, so as a young starving music teacher I usually opted for coffee and some baked treat if I dared take myself out for breakfast.

Now I'm a grownup. And breakfast is still not cheap. But it's good. Today I had the black bean and cheese omelette, with home fries and a scone.
The place has had some remodeling done, but the booths and chairs are pretty much the same as they were back when I was a young punk in torn jeans and a semi-mullet.
(Hey, it was 1989. Gimme a break.)

Another thing that has not changed are the scones. You can order one with your breakfast, or a basket of three scones. Or both. I got the basket to go so I could enjoy them tomorrow at home.
They are perfect warmed with butter and jam.  Do not take these home and put margarine on them. Please.                                                                                           
Had a nice ride home, punctuated by errands along the way that were designed to help me get more squarely back to density, to my ordinary life. When you spend time with a corpse, it stays with you a little while. Ultimately, I went home and felt much better after a nap.
And coffee and scones. They make life a little nicer.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

2016 Coffeeneuring Challenge 5: pushing back against gentrification

For those of you who read about Stop # 4, you might think that, with a visit to my local 7-11 store, Coffeeneuring has gotten sadder still.
But that's not the case.

This particular 7-11, located at the corner of NE Killingsworth and 15th, is a bastion of grit and truth in the heart of a growing blob of gentrification.

Some history:

The building was erected in 1938. If you look at the photos below, some vestiges of the original Art Deco facade remain at either end of the building. I was unable to research very quickly what the building was originally for, but based on recent pre-remodel memory I suspect it may have been an office or retail storefront of some kind.
In 2008, it was used temporarily as a precinct office for Barack Obama's presidential campaign. Sweetie and I volunteered to do some phone banking there, the last known incidence of my volunteering for anything blatantly political. (Don't ask. Please.)
After the election, the building sat empty for several years, until it was sold in a foreclosure auction to a property owner, who then signed a 10-year lease agreement with 7-11. The Vernon Neighborhood Association tried to stop the 7-11 store from going in, citing potential displacement of three minority-owned convenience stores within a block of this intersection. They lost, the 7-11 went in and opened three years ago; and one by one, each of those three minority-owned independents closed down.

Yes, it's sad. But to be fair, two of those independents were running on fumes and saw very little foot traffic before the 7-11 opened. Plus, the writing was on the wall for the mostly-empty building across the street, which was bought, remodeled, and filled with all manner of little boutique eateries, a bar and a tea room.


Along with a Pizza bakery, a Thai restaurant and the aforementioned Tea room, a realtor opened an office there as well.

Named "Little Beirut" -- for the protest "community" that sprung up in the wake of Vice President Dan "Bird Dog" Quayle's visit and kept on protesting until they grew up, got steadier jobs and had kids -- this realtor joins a number of others with equally precious names: Living Room Realty, Think, Inhabit, and (my favorite) Dwell.

So the fact that a lowly 7-11 store has managed to carve out a niche for itself in the midst of so much affluenza actually strikes a note of hope in my heart.

Sure, neighbors complained about the "bad element" a 7-11 would bring in -- but that element was already camping out in front of the three independent stores, long before this building was a gleam in the eye of the 7-11 Corporation. So I find their arguments slightly late to the party.
Seeing a down-at-heel-looking fellow on a rusty and overloaded Specialized touring bike from the Mesozoic era parked in front of the 7-11, I locked up across the street and went over to fulfill my mission.

No way was I up for a cup of coffee at almost 5:30 in the evening, especially from a convenience store. So I went for the hot chocolate -- which wasn't bad, actually.

Really. It wasn't bad. I'm enjoying the last of it at home as I type.

I took a peek around at the corporateness and saw that 7-11 was getting into health food:
I should ask my GI doc about this stuff.

Seriously, the place was hopping while I filled my cup, with folks buying everything from cigarettes to condoms to bread and beer and a cheese burrito from the "grill". And if not for the existence of this store in a sea of gentrification, these folks would have nowhere in the neighborhood left to go where they could afford to even walk into the building.

So much about the gentrification in North and Northeast Portland is about class and race. People moved here thirty years ago because it was the last affordable part of town. They moved here sixty years ago because realtors wouldn't show black families any houses outside this zip code -- yes, Vernon, Sabin and Woodlawn were "redline" neighborhoods. When I was a teenager, white girls did not go to this part of town alone, even during the day. It wasn't considered safe.
Today, the grandchildren of those earlier residents are being pushed out by rising rents, and by rental houses being flipped and sold to the highest bidder. So if I can give a little money to a store that helps keep longtime residents here at least a little longer, I'm fine with that. It's cool. And I'm happy to buy cheap hot chocolate at my local convenience store.

Evidence photo.

Coffeenneuring PSA: those damned paper cups

Dear friends: If you are coffeenneuring this year, please, PLEASE consider switching to either a portabe thermal coffe cup, or ask your serve to pour your coffee into a real mug.

I have lost count of how many paper cups I've ridden past on my way to everywhere just in the past week. These cups cannot be recycled due to food stains, and the waxy coating they often come with.

Klean Kanteen makes an excellent thermal mug that fits in a water bottle cage. It comes with a loop cap, or you can buy a sip-top separately. Its $30 price tag will pay for itself in just weeks of daily use; and it will keep a hundred or more paper cups out of the landfill in six months or less. (A Klean Kanteen figures prominently in my Coffeenneuring photos.)

Join me in reusing your coffee mug! And maybe we can see less of this on the roads.


Thursday, October 13, 2016

2016 Coffeeneuring Challenge 4: In search of sad coffee

Since my goal this time around is to go to places I've never visited in previous Challenges, I decided to see if gentrification has had an effect on the coffee economy here in Portland.
So the first thing I did was look up -- what else? -- Dunkin' Donuts.
People who are not from Portland rave about Dunkin's coffee. A colleague in southern California who's originally from New York still goes out of his way to hit the drive-thru at his local Dunkin's on the way to work.
How would a place like Dunkin' Donuts fare, I asked myself,  in a town with dozens of independent coffee roasters?
Not well.

Checking Dunkin's online search for retailers, I see that there currently exist in Oregon exactly TWO Dunkin' Donuts locations, one each in Portland and Gresham. (A third location in Salem is listed as having closed.) Obviously, this list is woefully out of date: several restaurant guides list either one, or none, left in Oregon at all.
But I digress.

Because if I have to ride all the way out to the suburbs to find sad coffee it's not gonna happen.
The closest approximation to sad coffee in my part of the world seems to be -- yup -- Starbucks.
But not just ANY Starbucks will do. In order for the coffee to really sad, it has to be located in a sad environment.
So on Tuesday morning, before Yom Kippur, I went to the Starbucks counter inside my local Safeway store at MLK and NE Ainsworth. (I took my #4 on Tuesday because I knew that by the time Thursday and Friday rolled around I would either be trying to build a sukkah in the rain and wind, or just hanging out at home hiding from the rain and wind.)

When a Starbucks counter is tucked inside Safeway, you have to admit that's pretty sad.
And, to my thinking, an excellent indicator of just how [expletive deleted]-ing twee Portland has become.

Let's make it sadder still: I found an old Starbucks card that a former employer had given me on Teacher Appreciation Day three years ago. I was given the card in the spring. Two weeks later, they told me they would not renew my contract. I tossed the card n a file drawer and forgot about it.
When I retrieved it for this coffeeneuring run, I learned that it had a whopping total of five bucks on it.
Five bucks worth of coffee.
To show the teachers how much they were appreciated.
That is pretty damned sad if you ask me.

So, to do the card -- and the memory of the aforementioned employer -- some justice, I spent it here. All of it. I got a big thermal cup of foofy coffee drink (Mocha with whipped cream) and some baked goods. That left me with about twenty cents on the card. I left it on the counter and walked away.

To make things the saddest yet, there was nowhere to sit and drink my coffee. The tables and chairs that were once there had been removed to discourage loitering by any of the thousands of Portland's homeless people with whom I share the sidewalks on any given day.
So I stood near the entryway to the store, sipped my coffee, and pondered the meaning of sadness in the world.

The ride before and after helped remove some of the stain of sadness.
I felt much better when I finally got home.
I promise future rides this year will not be as sad. Really.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

2016 Coffeeneuring Challenge 3: Pip's

Yesterday was a beautiful, sunny day. I needed to get some work done, but there was too much at home distracting me. So I figured I'd go for a bike ride to a coffee shop and study Torah instead.
I went to Pip's on NE 47th and Fremont.

The coffee is from Extracto (a place I'd visited in previous Coffeeneuring adventures).
The donuts are entirely Pip's own creation, and they are crazy good.

The menu gives you a number of optional toppings for their scratch-made-in-house mini donuts.
Do yourself a favor and save time: skip all the way down to the bottom and get the Dirty Wu: a plate of little donuts topped with cinnamon sugar, honey and nutella.
Eat them slowly, with a cup of fresh house coffee.
Then die and go directly to heaven (do not pass GO, etc). Because these will send you.

I ended up reading, taking notes for my study group later in the week, and thinking that if I could get in only one more coffeeneuring ride before Yom Kippur (which starts tonight), I couldn't do any better than this.

If you ask politely they might let you try out their guitar. (I did, and they did. A sweet vintage Epiphone from the lawsuit era, nice tone, low action, delightful, not for sale.)

Extracto Coffee, which supplies a number of small shops, is worth a visit as well. They have several locations around Portland. The roasting room on NE Prescott is a nice place to relax with some fancy pour-over if you have time.)

I'll try and get in another coffee ride after Yom Kippur, in between putting up my sukkah and running errrands all over town. Stay tuned, as one of my coffee rides will, weather permitting, feature a ride followed by coffee made in the sukkah. (Because I still need to get in my two miles, right?)
If you observe Yom Kippur -- G'mar Tov and have a thoughtful fast.
If not, please don't gloat when you think of us wobbling from low blood sugar tomorrow afternoon. Thanks.