A Spoonful of Portland

27 Jun

Dear friend,

Sven and I made a trip to Portland today to explore the rich diversity of this city.

The day began with a trip to the Chinatown district to see a door that Sven had painted for a homeless refuge camp. The first person we met was quite an interesting fellow – the tattoo on his neck, stating “Just Ask” in cursive letters, said it all. A former gay activist turned drag queen, this guy was from the East Coast but had joined the “occupy” movements across the country. Supposedly, he had come to Portland after participating in his home town occupy movement in Ohio. Sadly, I don’t remember his name, and he didn’t let me take a picture of him (although he said he was quite photogenic when dressed as a drag!). But Sven and I did receive an interesting perspective of how this homeless man viewed the government and his life.

I got a few shots of the camp – I didn’t want to take too many pictures and make the people feel uncomfortable – but the whole point of the camp is to give a good place for these people to sleep. It sounded like a strange idea, at first – after all, if you’re homeless (and probably jobless), one may think you’d have plenty of time to sleep. Sven pointed out, though, that most homeless people are sleep deprived, simply because sleeping for a homeless person can be dangerous. You don’t know who may steal what little you have, or rape you, or … you get the picture. As you probably already know, rain also is pretty common in Portland, and the weather can get sort of cold and nasty – not the best elements for a good night’s rest, either. So, this camp has tents and other areas where the homeless can crash for a while and get some rest, peacefully. Such a simple thing to us blessed with houses, beds, blankets, door locks, security systems.

We continued our walk around that area, checking out the hot spots for the heroin addicts and stripper clubs. Thankfully, we were there at 10 a.m., and the nightlife junkies were still asleep. Voodoo Doughnuts was another stop we made in the area, but we were unable to go inside due to the incredibly long line and the fact Sven’s dog, Thor, accompanied us.

We continued to walk the streets of this eclectic city, and I found myself surprised at the extremes presented in Portland. It was funny in a weird way, for instance, how Chinatown is one of the “bad” areas of the city, but is literally beside the Pearl District, the home of the comfortable and rich. Where I live, I’ve always seen more of a gradual decline in a neighborhood. You can tell you’re getting into an area in town where less wealthy people live, and eventually the homes are smaller, and the cycle continues until you’re surrounded by shabby apartments and musty little grocery stores. Here, everyone seems to be piled on top of each other, with one street filled with fancy home interior shops and the next lined with gentlemen clubs and homeless missions. Maybe I’m just too deep fried in Southern small-town thinking, but it’s a little confusing to me trying to figure out how things work around here.

We ventured toward what Sven called “as downtown as you can get,” walking past the courthouse and viewing some of Portland’s more iconic areas.

After taking a walk along the waterfront, we made our way to visit several of Sven’s friends at HBB Studio – a group of guys who make incredible furniture. We dropped in at a good time, as they were beginning to design a 26-foot table for a business. Cool stuff, my friend.

We walked around a bit in that area as well, passing more strip clubs. A little fact – Portland is well-known for its shameless amount of all-nude strip clubs. If I’m remembering correctly, it’s home to over 50 of these places. I think the runner-up to Portland was Dallas, and it has about three. Yeah.

We did happen to come across this amazing place called Hippo Hardware. The story goes that a man fought in a war (sorry, I don’t remember which one, but I believe it took place in the 1970s) and saw the extreme poverty in the third-world countries. When he came back home, he saw people renovating their homes and throwing away usable things, like door knobs and cabinet drawer pulls. Outraged at the wastefulness of Americans, he opened Hippo Hardware that sells these types of used home items. This man truly lived out the idea of “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.”

Once finished with our exploration of Portland, we headed out to Hillsboro to visit the John Growth Glass studio – where Sven actually works. I got to spend a few minutes talking with John about the business, and Sven gave me a tour of the workspace.

John went to college at Portland State University, where he got a degree in ceramics. He also has taken business classes, which he said helped prepare him for the glass studio he runs today.

John worked with ceramics for a few years after he graduated, and then switched to working with glass. For a time, he participated in craft shows, where he would sell his pieces to regional galleries. After doing this for several years, John then became interested in architectural glass design. He said he enjoys this area of design, as he gets to work collaboratively with others in a more creative environment.

The day ended with shooting some photos of a mandolin orchestra practice – but that’s a story for later. This little Byrd is a bit tired after a long day of adventures!

Until next time,



One Response to “A Spoonful of Portland”

  1. andi June 27, 2012 at 3:24 pm #

    Wow! I’ve never been farther West than Indiana, but I am longing to head all the way out to the West coast someday. Portland is on my list of places to go :-)

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