Back in school: Media studies

Teachable moment following the second day of class.

Waiting for the streetcar after class last week at Portland State, I came across the above scene in the middle of campus and realized it could be a teachable moment for students in my Media Literacy class. Here is the prompt I gave them:

“Check out the attached photo and think back to our conversation about what elements in a media message tend to attract our attention. With that in mind, what would you say stands out in the photo? Without caption information from me, do you know what’s going on?”

What stands out? The color pink. The heart-shaped cutout for selfies. The gathering of nearly all females, nearly all of them young. The hashtag #pinkoncampus.

What’s going on? It’s a promotional event for Pink, a lingerie and clothing line by Victoria’s Secret targeting young adults and teenagers. Through students who serve as campus reps, the company can give away swag and reap free publicity through social media. Sharing the hashtag on Instagram means you can spread photos of the event with friends who may have missed it and also make them visible to anyone who comes upon the online site. (In the case of Pink, how beneficial is it for the company to have young women publicizing your products from Boise State to Ohio State to Florida, as well as Portland State?)

How does that reach compare to the bulletin board on the first floor of the campus library? It’s overflowing with flyers competing for space and attention, with design elements featuring different colors, typography, symbols and language. In essence, it’s a physical representation of the mass media messages (from news, advertising and entertainment) that assault us every minute of every day. But if you’ve produced one of those flyers, you’ve got to understand its reach is limited to the number of people who just so happen to be in that one building among dozens on a campus serving 30,000 students — and who just so happen to pick your flyer out of all those others above, below and next to it.

Competing for views on one wall of the PSU Millar Library.

Is it any wonder advertisers, marketers, PR firms, news organizations and nonprofits have turned away from static, two-dimensional platforms and turned toward digital images and information, which are timeless, less expensive to produce, and can be shared without limit?

That’s the kind of approach I try to take in teaching Media Literacy, as well as in Media Ethics. Textbooks are great for presenting and explaining basic concepts and principles, but the real world outside the classroom can be a great complement to helping us understand what we come across on our screens. Why do we scroll past some things but pay attention to others? Do we quickly understand what we are reading or viewing? How do we assign meaning? Is it the tone or specific content of a headline or photo? Do we have prior knowledge or experience with the subject or producer of the message? If the topic or source are new to us, how do we know to trust what is in front of us?

I could go on, but that’s the gist of what I am trying to get students to think about.

***

The fall quarter began on Sept. 30 at PSU and today marks the end of the second week of classes. It’s a good time to look back (just briefly) and look forward to what lies ahead.

This year marks the beginning of my fourth year as an adjunct college insttructor and my first as a full-time faculty member. I’d been splitting my time between PSU and Washington State University Vancouver, but Portland State offered me a one-year contract that allows me to focus my efforts on a single campus. I will teach three classes during the fall, winter and spring terms, including an online class for students who are doing Comm-related internships for academic credit.

I have about 100 students total in my three classes, and one teaching assistant to help me in the largest one, Media Literacy, a 300-level class that can be taken as an elective. In that class of 56 students, about one-third are people of color and one-fourth are foreign-born. They come from Canada, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Pakistan, Mexico, Malyasia, the Philippines and the Czech Republic.

Among the students are speakers of Arabic, Hebrew, German, Spanish, Japanese, Czech and American Sign Language. One student, born in Pakistan but raised in Afghanistan, speaks Dari, Urdu, Hindi, and a little bit of Pashto — oh, and English, too.

Many are the first in their family to attend college and most of them work at least part-time. Some are parents. Some grew up in Portland and its suburbs, others in rural communities scattered across Eastern, Southern or Coastal Oregon. Others are from throughout the West — Washington, Idaho, Alaska, California, Nevada, Arizona.

13 students are Communications majors, 12 are studying business and the rest are scattered across the spectrum — political science, psychology, philosophy, English, economics, graphic design, art history, computer science, sociology, women’s studies and more.

All of these things make for a wonderfully diverse set of perspectives and experiences that enrich our class discussions and enable students to learn from their peers, as well as from me, guest speakers, readings and videos.

I have 35 students in the Media Ethics class — a 400-level class populated entirely by Comm majors who are juniors and seniors. There’s quite a bit of diversity there, too, with racial or ethnic minorities accounting for about one-third of the class.

During my three decades at The Oregonian, I often thought I was privileged to hold two of the best jobs in the newsroom. As recruitment director, I got to travel widely, meet talented prospects and established pros from all over the country, and help recruit many of them to Portland. As Sunday Opinion Editor, I got to work directly with a tremendously talented group of editorial writers, columnists and a cartoonist (hello, Jack Ohman!) and solicit commentary pieces from politicans, professors, business people, community advocates and ordinary citizens on issues of public policy affecting our city, state and region.

But you know what? I’m enjoying this second career every bit, if not more, than my first as a journalist. Adjunct pay is notoriously horrible and the hours required to prepare a syllabus and weekly schedule for each class; assign and grade papers, quizzes and exams; and prepare for and follow up each class meeting are too many to count. But the rewards are so worth it.

I get to share what I know and what I keep learning — often from my students. And I get to feel a measure of pride in seeing them grow before my eyes as they engage with the course content, connect the dots, and express themselves orally and online. Afterwards, it’s gratifying to have so many ask me to be a job reference.

When the academic year ends next June, I will retire. Well, sort of.

I’ve taught a course in London each of the past two summers through PSU’s Education Abroad office, and I have plans to do so again in 2020. Next year, though, it will be a different program in a different city. Details to come.

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VOA 8.0

The motley crew at McMenamin’s on Sept. 21, 2019. From left and across the front row: Al Rodriguez, Elizabeth Hovde, John Killen, Eric Scharf. Andrea Cano, Kate Carroll de Gutes, Lakshmi Jagannathan, George Rede, Raghu Raghavan, Jason Cox, Alana Cox (seated with Cece). Back row dudes: Bob Ehlers, Eric Wilcox, Leroy Metcalf. Not pictured: Melissa Jones.

It’s coming up on four full days since a motley crew gathered at a local brewpub to celebrate another year of writing, reading and friendship — and the glow is still mighty warm.

I’m talking about the Voices of August meetup, the annual gathering of friends, neighbors and work colleagues that happens after each iteration of the guest blog project I started in 2010.

We skipped a year last year because of my work commitments, but VOA 2019 was pretty awesome, both online and in person. We had the usual wide variety of topics, a high degree of writing quality, four new writers among us, and stimulating conversations on the digital platform.

On Saturday we had the opportunity to engage face-to-face in a private room at McMenamin’s on Broadway, a place that I think may soon become our official “home.”

We had about two dozen people in attendance, nearly twice as many as in 2017. I think the extra numbers contributed to an exceptionally positive gathering.

A few highlights:

— Once again, we had people come from Oregon, Washington and California, with Al Rodriguez and Elizabeth Lee coming up from Santa Barbara and Lakshmi Jagannthan and Raghu Raghavan coming up from the San Jose suburbs. Those who couldn’t join us contributed their blogs from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Texas and New Jersey.

— We had four new writers this year: Eric Scharf, who described his passions for cycling and food; Melissa Jones, who reminisced about her stash of ticket stubs; Kate Carroll de Gutes, the author of two award-winning memoirs; and 12-year-old Ayumi Mori. the youngest VOA participant ever, who wrote movingly about her gay older sister.

— A trio of writers/cyclists — Al Rodriguez, Eric Scharf and John Killen — took it upon themselves to organize a Saturday morning bike ride. Nothing like a 50-mile-plus ride to wake up the senses, right?

— After 8 years of doing this, VOA writers account for about 250 of the more than 700 posts on my humble blog. The beauty of this endeavor is that it draws out thoughtful commentaries on so many different topics. This year alone, we had essays covering the spectrum from birth to death and everywhere in between — pregnancy, miscarriage, breastfeeding and parenting. Writers also touched on education, religion, travel, wildlife, politics, gender identity and recreation (thanks for that put-us-right-there piece on skydiving, Eric Wilcox).

***

Finally, thank you and congratulations to the four writers whose essays emerged as this year’s favorites. They are not “the best” per se. But they are the ones that resonated most broadly with the writers and regular readers of VOA who cast a ballot for their three favorites.

The top vote-getters win a gift card to a bookstore. Oddly, not a single one of these four writers was at the meetup. Nevertheless, here’s a hearty online round of applause for those whose essays struck us as extra special:

Jennifer Brennock: “The way men sit in chairs” — A powerful piece about “manspreading” that calls out the way some dudes intrude on others’ physical and psychological space.

At the poetry reading, someone sits down on my left. The man extends both legs fully, each jutting out directly from the corners of his seat. It makes the lower half of his body into a big v. A big valentine v. As if he can’t help from spilling over. You know, cuz he’s so big. He has a right to all this space because he was randomly born with some anatomy that is apparently a foot wide. Men sit like this.

Lillian Mongeau Hughes: “When you’re sitting on a plane: a reflection about a mother’s love” — What does it feel like to be jammed into in a middle seat on a plane from Portland to Boston to see your mom when you’ve just learned she’s been diagnosed with cancer? This is how.

“(You) cycle through all the things your mother has ever said to you about living so far from her. And you cycle through all the things she hasn’t said to you, but you know she thinks. And you settle on the one she’s repeated the most. She wants you to be happy. If you’re happy, she’s happy. And because you have a daughter now, you know that’s true, so you try to stop the cycling.” 

John Knapp: “To no one in particular” — Laura was the oldest of six kids and the anchor in John’s eastern Oregon family. When his sister died on Valentine’s Day, she broke everyone’s heart. I’ve never read a more touching tribute.

“Laura was not famous, held no public office and was not high profile in her local community. She led a straightforward life, with the usual markers and life events that others experience. She was a wife, mother, daughter, sister, artist, baker, and did an above average job in all those roles. But still, you might say she was no one in particular, except to those who knew and loved her.”

Jacob Quinn Sanders: “Up to my ass in alligators” — A former newspaper reporter recalls the time a certain police captain in small-town Arkansas was left in charge of the department while the chief and the public information officer were away on vacation. When the captain refused to comment on a minor shooting, insisting he was “up to my ass in alligators,” Sanders was left with little choice.

“I went to my editor. People should know that’s what he said, I told him. I’m going to quote him directly in this little brief. From there, you can do what you like. No hard feelings if you have to take it out — but I’m putting it in there. My editor thought that was a pretty good idea.”

Ha! Already looking forward to VOA 2020!

Discovering Dunthorpe

Just before August ended, I dug out my guidebook of urban hikes and headed for a part of town I’d otherwise have no reason to visit.

This would be Dunthorpe, a wealthy enclave of homes in unincorporated Multnomah County, just south of the Portland city limits and a few miles north of Lake Oswego, the affluent suburb that lies in Clackamas County not far from Tryon Creek State Park and Lewis & Clark College.

On this particular weekday morning, I set out to see two public gardens about two miles apart on opposite sides of Oregon 43, the state highway running along the west side of the Willamette River. I wound up seeing one.

No big deal, though, because I saw plenty in my two-hour hike following the directions outlined in Laura O. Foster’s “Portland Hill Walks.” She does an amazing job of providing ground-level detail and historical context no matter which neighborhood walk she is describing.

This walk was titled “Dunthorpe Gardens.” And so here we go:

***

Starting at the intersection of SW Riverwood Road and Military Road, a stone’s throw from the river, I headed west, up a hill toward a leafy neighborhood full of big homes and lots of gated driveways. A plaque nearby informed me of what had been there long before: an 1870s-era structure called the White House that featured a casino, dining room, dance hall and racetrack. It was destroyed by fire in 1904 and the area was later developed with homes.

In recent years, the area has become popular with the Portland Trail Blazers, as players have bought homes here or further south and east in Lake Oswego and West Linn. I didn’t see anything that screamed “NBA player lives here” but I had just barely begun my walk when I spotted an open garage with a silver Jaguar. Talk about the Dunthorpe stereotype.

Moving forward, I heard the banter of a Spanish-speaking crew hired to maintain the grounds of one of these sprawling homes.

(Quick aside: Military Road is an old American Indian trail that once ran across the Tualatin Mountains. Farmers would bring their produce via this road to the ferry landing, whose owner so happened to be a business partner of the man who owned a mill directly across the river in Milwaukie. The pair would offer free passage to any farmer who ground his grain at the Milwaukie mill. Can you say “monopoly”?)

It wasn’t long before I turned onto a quiet side street, SW Military Lane. Beyond two giant sequoias at the end of the lane was my first destination: Bishop’s Close.

According to Foster, close is a Scottish word that refers to a road, usually with private homes, that vehicles can enter only from one end. A bishop’s close is a cloister area set apart from but still accessible to the public.

In this case, a wealthy couple who moved into this area in the early 1900s are the ones responsible for the lovely garden found beyond the end of the lane. Peter Kerr, a grain merchant from Scotland, and his wife Laurie built a home on an estate that also included a garden, tennis courts, swimming pool and golf course. The grounds were designed by the stepson of Frederick Law Olmsted, the famous designer of New York City’s Central Park.

After the couple died, their two daughters set up an endowment to provide for maintenance and gave the property to the Episcopal Diocese of Oregon with a stipulation that the grounds remain forever open to the public.

And that’s how I found myself visiting Elk Rock Garden with its impressive collection of trees, plants and flowers, and a footbridge.

The sun was still rising and the automatic sprinklers were going, keeping everything green and misty. I followed a small stone staircase that took me onto narrow gravel and dirt trails that passed through the rock garden. At the southernmost end of the trail I came to the Point.

The Point is where you can peer carefully over a low wall built on sheer cliffs and see down to the Willamette River. Here at the Point the view is somewhat narrow — a 180-degree panorama at best — but you can get a good view of Milwaukie on the east side of the river as you walk back to he main garden. Also plainly visible is Elk Rock Island, which the Kerrs owned and later gave to the city of Portland in 1940 on the condition it be preserved as a natural area.

***

With my garden tour completed, I headed back out to Military Road and resumed my hike. I crossed the busy highway and soon came to Riverdale Grade School (pre-K through eighth grade). The grade school and its sibling, Riverdale High School, are the only two schools in the exclusive Riverdale School District, which serves about 600 families in the neighborhood.

Leaving the grade school behind, I was grateful for the shade as I made my way up the twisting two-lane road without sidewalks. As with residences nearby the river, the homes in this area are characterized by luxury and privacy. At one point, I came upon a cluster of streets carved out of the former Henry Corbett estate, named for a U.S. senator who served during the 19th Century.

I turned off Military Road onto a side street and headed for my second destination: Berry Botanical Garden.

According to the guide book, the garden is known worldwide for its species plant collections and conservation efforts. The garden is named for Rae Selling Berry, a Northeast Portland resident. She and her husband bought nine acres of previously logged-off land here in 1938 after she had run out of gardening space at the family’s home in Irvington, the neighborhood where we live.

There was no sign for the garden and as I reached the end of the street, just past the last house, the road headed downhill, as if I were about to walk down someone’s private driveway. That’s when I spotted the “No Trespassing” sign.

Turns out the garden is closed.

After Rae Berry’s death in 1976, a nonprofit group bought and maintained the property but sold it in 2011 because of funding problems. The new owner? The Environmental Science and Management Program at Portland State University.

Foster’s book was published in 2005 and reprinted in 2006 and 2007. How was she to predict the Berry Botanical Garden’s fate?

I was only mildly disappointed to learn the garden had closed. After all, I had enjoyed the solitude at Bishop’s Close and got in two solid hours of walking up and down hills. I turned around, took a few more photos on SW Summerfield Lane, and headed back to my car, this time going downhill.

I was grateful to have Foster’s guidebook. Without it, I would have never known about these public gardens in Southwest Portland. More to the point, it’s been an indispensible resource as I’ve ventured out beyond my neighborhood and learned more about the history and topography of this city I’ve adopted as my own.

I may have missed Berry Botancial Garden, but I will gladly return to Bishop’s Close for another visit to Elk Rock Garden.

Ora Rede: A community treasure

Announcing the winner of the Catarino “Cat” Rede and Ora Rede Scholarship at an awards banquet in August.  (Photo by Mary Alice Murphy as posted in Grant County Beat)

Silver City is a quiet town of about 10,000 residents in southwest New Mexico. Today I want to tell you about one of those residents: Ora Rede, my stepmother.

Civic boosters would describe Silver City as a “gem” with forest recreation,
a vibrant historic downtown, art community, and dozens of festivals and events. That’s fair, but I also know it as a culturally conservative place where Latinos make up 52 percent of the population, the median household income is about $26,000, and one in five residents lives in poverty.

It’s also a long way from any sizable city — 200 miles or more from Tucson and Albuquerque and 150 miles from El Paso.

Considering its geographic isolation and demographics, there’s ample opportunity for community volunteers to lend a helping hand. And that’s where Ora comes in.

The Silver City Daily Press and Independent recently published a story with this headline:

“Rede selected LULAC 2019 Woman of the Year.”

The story reported that my stepmother was selected as the local, district and state Woman of the Year by the League of United Latin American Citizens, the largest and oldest Hispanic organization in the United States with a mission of advocating for advancement in education, civil rights, health, and employment for the Hispanic community.

“Her dediciation, hard work and desire to help the community were exemplified by her involvement in several community organizations, including LULAC, the library board, and the Literacy Link-Leamos program, and working with veterans and widows of veterans through American Legion Post 18,” the newspaper said.

“Her service also included volunteering for the after-school food program and the St. Francis Food Pantry.”

In addition, “She tutors Spanish and enthusiastically teaches others about the culture. She is fluent in Spanish and has served as a translator of many community events where needed.”

I happen to know that her “students” include a couple of parish priests, one a native Spanish speaker who wants to improve his English, and the other an English speaker who wants to improve his Spanish. I also recall seeing her in action during one visit, when she pitched in to help prepare and serve enchiladas for a community fundraiser.

On top of all this, the Daily Press and Independent noted that a scholarship in the name of Ora and my late father, Catarino, was awarded to a high school student to attend the local college, Western New Mexico University, and major in nursing.

That’s fitting because Ora was a registered nurse before she retired. She and my dad met in Oakland, California, when she was working in the emergency room and he was a stationary engineer, responsible for maintaining the hospital’s boilers, air-conditioning and refrigeration equipment.

In retirement, they volunteered in their adopted hometown, regularly attended church and community events, and even traveled internationally,

When my dad passed away in 2 1/2 years ago at age 91, he had been married to Ora for 46 years.

Source: City-Data.com

“Marrying Oralia was the best thing that ever happened to him,” I wrote then. “It was as if my dad (had been) born again, given an opportunity to live life to its fullest alongside an affectionate and dedicated wife who fully embraced his adult children and cared for him to the very end.”

I’m very happy, but not a bit surprised, by the public recognition given to Ora’s volunteer efforts. She is a genuinely kind and gracious individual who has endeared herself to Lori and me — and everyone in our extended family — through the love, care and concern she expesses in word and deed.

Ora singing at a community event in Silver City.

Oralia Caballero Rede, at age 85, is many things. She is humble, deeply religious, and fiercely proud of her Mexican heritage, growing up in San Antonio, Texas. She is adventurous, having once ridden a zip line on a trip to Costa Rica. And she is caring, recently traveling to Honduras to help deliver medical and dental services as part of a humanitarian team.

We are so very proud of Ora — and I know my dad would be proud of his Lala, too.

Ora and C.A. Rede outside their New Mexico home in April 2014.
Ora enjoying a ride on the Portland Aerial Tram during a visit to Portland in 2018.

Heart & Joan Jett: Some bad-ass rockers

Ann Wilson, lead singer and songwriter for Heart, getting into the music.

Wow! Make that double wow!

Got a chance to see two Rock and Roll Hall of Fame acts at one concert and they were g-r-r-r-eat!

Imagine Joan Jett & the Blackhearts opening for Heart, led by sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson.

Tuesday night was four hours of rock music, featuring bad-ass frontwomen and talented band members happy to take a back seat to the ladies, who’ve been performing since the ’70s.

The venue: Sunlight Supply Ampitheatre in Ridgefield, Washington, about a 30-minute drive north of Portland under normal circumstances. (More on that later.) It’s an outdoor venue that seats 18,000 and a place that draws some pretty fine artists. I’ve seen Steely Dan and Michael McDonald, the Dixie Chicks and Lady Antebellum at previous shows.

Joan Jett came on 8 pm sharp and performed for an hour. At 60, she appeared and sounded just as you would expect: dressed in black from head to toe, layered jet-black hair, wailing on a wine-colored Gibson guitar, and belting out her vocals with a growl.

She had a lot of the crowd on their feet as she ripped through “Cherry Bomb,” “Bad Reputation,” “I Hate Myself For Loving You,” and the anthem “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.”

She did covers of “Crimson and Clover” and “Everyday People” and genuinely seemed to be having fun.

Joan and her band were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015 — and for good reason. A founding member of the all-teenage girl band The Runaways, she is often called the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll and the Godmother of Punk.

She set the mood beautifully for Heart, who followed up with a 90-minute set.

The Wilson sisters are flat-out amazing. The two are military brats whose family settled in the Seattle suburb of Bellevue, so Tuesday’s concert was a Pacific Northwest homecoming on their national tour.

Ann, who just turned 69, is the heart and soul of the band (pun intended) as lead vocalist and songwriter. Nancy, at 65, is a virtuoso on guitar and lends a nice change of pace when she’s the featured singer.

While the Blackhearts pounded away at nothing but hard rock, Heart displayed more versatility. Sure, they ran through a pile of hits: “Magic Man,” “Even It Up,” “What About Love” and “Little Queen.”

But they also did a cool version of Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard Through The Grapevine” that segued into “Straight On.” They harmonized beautifully on Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Boxer” and followed up with “These Dreams” and “Dog and Butterfly.”

They ended their set with “Crazy On You” then came back with a three-song encore: Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven,” the ballad “Alone” and the kick-ass “Barracuda.”

Heart was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013, nearly 40 years after they hit it big with the 1975 album “Dreamboat Annie.”

I’d been wanting to see Heart for a long time. What a bonus to catch Joan Jett at the same time.

***

If you’re thinking of attending a concert at Sunlight Supply Amphitheatre, be forewarned. Although the parking lot has space for 7,000 vehicles, they strongly encourage using the park-and-ride lot in Vancouver and a shuttle bus to and from the venue.

I did just that, but rush hour traffic meant a one-hour drive to the parking lot shuttle and leisurely arrival that was too late to catch the warmup act at 7 pm. No biggie. I was there for the headliners.

But…after the concert ended at 11, it took nearly an hour and a half to get home. Had to wait in line with throngs of tired, cranky people to catch one of the shuttles and get back to the park-and-ride lot just before midnight. I got home about 12:30 am. Hardly ideal.

Voices of August 2019: Your favorites?

August may bring the hot, lazy days of summer but it also brings a month’s worth of great reading.

Thanks to those of you contributed to the 8th annual edition of Voices of August, we were treated once again to a daily dose of wisdom, laughter or contemplation.

Call me biased but I think it would be difficult to find another collection of essays with as many different topics, voices and perspectives with writers ranging from age 12 to 70-plus and based in seven states.

As much as I enjoy reading each piece, the greater reward is seeing the conversation each guest blog sparks among those of you in the VOA community and beyond.

I have my favorites this year — and I’m sure you do, too. So now comes your opportunity to give a tip of the hat to those who made time for VOA 8.0. Whether you were a writer or a reader, you’re invited to vote for your three favorites. Your deadline: Sunday, September 8th.

Here are the rules:

  • Who can vote. As with previous years, anyone who has written a guest blog (this year or previously) or who is simply a regular reader of VOA can vote for three favorite pieces. You decide if you’ve read enough of this month’s contributions to cast a ballot.
  • Criteria. There are none other than your own. What grabbed your attention? What resonated with you? What made you laugh or cry? What challenged your assumptions? What made you see things differently?
  • How to vote. Take some time to review the month’s posts here at the VOA 8.0 index page and then send the titles of your three favorites to me at ghfunq@msn.com.

As you go back through the essays, please take the opportunity to leave a comment on one or more posts. Be generous with your feedback, both on Facebook and especially on the posts themselves. Your comments are gold.

Thanks, everyone!

— George Rede

Photo: Thinkstock

VOA 8.0 index page

Words are like bridges, carrying us from one person’s experience and perspective to a place of broader understanding.

An archive of who wrote what during this month of guest blog posts for Voices of August 2019

Aug. 1: Tammy Ellingson | The last checkbox

Aug. 2: Jason Cox | The finite universe of opportunities

Aug. 3: Al Rodriguez | 3.5 months to go – Yes, I’m counting

Aug. 4: Rachel Lippolis | Just a spark

Aug. 5: John Knapp | To no one in particular

Aug. 6: David Quisenberry | To live is Christ, to die is gain

Aug. 7: Mary Pimentel | “Chez-soi est dans le cœur” (“One’s home is in the heart”)

Aug. 8: Tim Akimoff | The wild place next door

Aug. 9: Lillian Mongeau Hughes | When you’re sitting on a plane: A reflection on a mother’s love

Aug. 10: Gil Rubio | Our hands

Aug. 11: Midori, Ayumi, Aki Mori | A butterfly named Midori

Aug. 12: Michael Granberry | Fear and loathing between a farter and a fatso

Aug. 13: Alana Cox | Let’s talk about breastfeeding

Aug. 14: Elizabeth Hovde | Striving for higher ground

Aug. 15: Eric Wilcox | Falling from the sky

Aug. 16: Andrea Cano | Tears

Aug. 17: Michael Arrieta-Walden |The treasure of diversity

Aug. 18: Kate Carroll de Gutes |On meaning, memory, and desire

Aug. 19: Nike Bentley |Don’t blink

Aug. 20: Leroy Metcalf | Viva España

Aug. 21: Eric Scharf | My name is Eric. I am an addict.

Aug. 22: Lakshmi Jagannathan | One step at a time

Aug. 23: George Rede | The ‘other’ Thames

Aug. 24: Lynn St. Georges | It is never gone

Aug. 25:  Jacob Quinn Sanders | Up to my ass in alligators

Aug. 26:  Monique Gonzales | The meaning of democracy

Aug. 27:  Bob Ehlers | Renovating and reuniting

Aug. 28:  Jennifer Brennock |The way men sit in chairs

Aug. 29:  John Killen | Chasing Kristin

Aug. 30:  Patricia Conover | Thoughts on returning to Oregon

Aug. 31:  Melissa Jones | Please print! And don’t recycle.

Photograph: George Rede 

Please print! And don’t recycle.

By Melissa Jones

It was a big decision and a giant purchase for my friend Wendy and me: “Pit” tickets near the stage to see The Rolling Stones at Century Link Field in Seattle.

It’s the most money I’ve ever spent on a concert, dwarfing the $175 I spent for Prince and his all-girl band at the Roseland.

Wendy and I would drive from Portland to Seattle the day of the show, staying at the cheapest hotel we could find. The morning after the show, Wendy would get me to Sea-Tac at 4 a.m. for the earliest flight back to Portland, in time to make a 9 a.m. Portland flight with my son for a long-planned vacation that I couldn’t reschedule.

The planning was nerve-wracking.

So when Wendy told me she was having our tickets mailed to her house, I was confused.

Why would anyone get physical tickets mailed when she could download a ticket to her phone? It’s one less thing to carry. One less thing to remember. No shipping costs.

I’m an avid user of the “wallet” on my phone that allows me to save tickets and quickly access them in the airport security line or in the Moda Center bag check.

But this summer – before Janet Jackson in Las Vegas –  I started having doubts.

These doubts began during this summer’s Women’s World Cup soccer matches. No, I didn’t go see them in France.

But 20 years ago, I was present for the momentous game at the Pasadena Rose Bowl when the U.S. women beat China’s team.  It was another big event that took a lot of planning to attend. I drove to LA from Phoenix to go with my former UCLA roommate, Anita. I stayed at her apartment, and she drove us to the stadium; I remember hearing “La Vida Loca” in her truck on the way.

During this year’s matches in France, everyone harkened back on the team of 1999. The players were back on TV and sportscasters reminisced about Brandi Chastain ripping off her shirt at the end and triumphantly falling to her knees in her sports bra. (I was there!)

My friend Anita and I played lacrosse together at UCLA and we traded texts during this year’s soccer matches; she asked me where we sat at the Rose Bowl.

While I remember hearing Ricky Martin on the radio and seeing J. Lo perform the halftime show, I don’t remember where we sat. And I don’t have any photos. In 1999, if you wanted a picture of something, you had to bring a camera, and I guess I didn’t.

I told Anita that I’d look through my ticket stubs, kept in a box in my basement with my yearbooks, my Olivia Newton-John program (first concert!) and my Go-Go’s bandana (first concert without my mom!)

Going through the envelope is like looking at a lifelong yearbook of live music. Ben Harper at Edgefield. Susana Baca at the Aladdin. Manu Chao at the Crystal Ballroom, where I talked to other women who were there by themselves.

There are sporting events too, like UCLA basketball in the Final Four in Indianapolis, when I happened to be living there. Cubs spring training in Phoenix just before I got married. Lots of Blazers and Timbers. I’m not sure why I saved my ticket to “Slumdog Millionaire.”

The earliest concert stubs bring back the most memories. Oingo Boingo at the Arizona State Fair with my high school friend Donna. The glittery text on the ticket for The Thompson Twins at Mesa Amphitheatre. Big Audio Dynamite when I was a student in London, drinking hard cider at age 19 and stage diving after hugging Mick Jones.

The most confusing ticket stubs are of things I don’t remember.

I saw Marjane Satrapi at the Schnitz? I have no recollection of that.

Maya Angelou? Wow. I saw her?

Jane Goodall at Arizona State? I’ve never had a great memory, but how does an anthropology major forget seeing Jane Goodall?

I couldn’t find a ticket stub of the World Cup game from 1999. It was probably lost somewhere in the many states and many moves I’ve made since then.

There are other shows I remember that have no record in my phone, inbox or basement, like Def Leppard in Phoenix at Compton Terrace, a venue long gone. And U2’s Unforgettable Fire tour at Compton Terrace. Did I also see Lollapalooza there?

I don’t remember.

But I will remember when, where and how much I paid to see The Rolling Stones in Seattle. Cuz I have the ticket stub.

Melissa Jones is a former staff writer for The Oregonian who was recruited by George Rede! She’s an Arizona native who now lives in NE Portland with her husband and son. She teaches journalism at Clackamas Community College, and her next show is Cher at the Moda Center. 

Editor’s note: Former staff writer at The Oregonian? Lives in NE Portland? Teaches college journalism? That could be me. Where Melissa and I diverge is Cher. But I’ve got my ticket to see Heart on September 3rd!

Thoughts on returning to Oregon

By Patricia Conover

“Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”  — Robert Frost 

The flight begins its descent. I see the familiar tall pines and snow-capped mountains in the distance. When I step out of the plane, the fresh scent of green earth and recent rain hits me with such velocity that I close my eyes to breathe it in.  

I’m not an Oregon native. In fact, I’m about as far from an Oregon native as anyone could be. I grew up in and around Manhattan. I made my first trip to the West Coast when I was 25 years old and didn’t visit Oregon until my mid-30s when Kirk accepted a job offer at an architecture firm in Portland. We quit our jobs in the New York City area and packed up our three littles (including a newborn) and waved goodbye rise to our high-rise apartment.  

To say that the move was an adjustment would be an understatement. We didn’t understand the Oregonians and the Oregonians didn’t understand us. I felt as though I had arrived in a foreign country without prior knowledge of the culture, language or codes. 

Whenever I got into my car I risked someone yelling at me. “You can’t park there,” or “Are you really going to make a U-turn?” 

I enrolled my oldest daughter in school. We’d packed all her smocked Liberty of London dresses, bright Mary Jane shoes and the red Rothschild coat with a velvet collar for kindergarten.  

She was wiping tears away when she arrived home after her first day.  

“The kids made fun of my clothes,” she said. “They asked me why I was wearing a costume.”  

What were the other kindergarteners wearing?  

“T-shirts and jeans and sneakers,” she said. “I’m never wearing a dress again!” 

It wasn’t difficult to adapt to the more casual style of dress in Portland. The iron was put away and nobody missed it. 

I did miss my editing job. I tried to find publishing work but jobs like the one I’d had on Lexington Avenue were practically non-existent in my new city. I wrote several stories and hand-delivered them to George Rede, the young Southwest bureau editor of The Oregonian.  

Reader, he bought them! And he encouraged me to write more, fostering me in the writing career that I had dreamed of for years but never dared to attempt. 

Less successful: Dealing with the incessant rain. We’d been warned about it before we arrived but nothing can prepare you for the unceasing September-to-May of it. 

We moved in late summer and the sun never stopped shining until the moon began to rise. We snickered when our East Coast relatives inquired about the rain.  

“Rain? What rain? The sun is always shining here!” 

The laughter faded when autumn arrived. It rained incessantly every single day.  

As soon as the sky opened up, I called the girls inside. I postponed trips to the library or to the museum or the grocery store. My new neighbor, Judy, knocked on the front door after a few days of that.  

“You have to learn to ignore the rain,” she said. “The girls can play outdoors in raingear. Go outside when it drizzles or you’ll never leave the house!” 

We bought rain boots, fleece pullovers and waterproof jackets with hoods. In the winter, we added thermals and woolen layers to the mix. We learned to play and hike and ride our bikes in the rain. 

As a child, I was constantly told not to get dirty. Yet, for my girls, mud was no longer a four-letter word. They loved to play in the dirt. Being outside so much inspired me to plant a garden. The girls helped by digging holes and planting seeds. Soon, we were planning flowerbeds. Did I mention compost? We learned how to compost!   

Time moves forward and all three of our girls were enrolled in school. Their friends were hiking and skiing and windsurfing and climbing mountains. Pretty soon, they were, too. I’d never known anyone who spent so much time outdoors and now my children were living the active lives that we couldn’t have imagined in the Big Apple.  

Still, when we met people they immediately knew that we were from “back East.”  

I suffered the indignities of linguistic insufficiencies. I don’t have a particularly strong New York accent, but when I walked into a coffee shop and ordered a “Cwofffeee,” the barista couldn’t understand me. People asked me to speak more slowly.  

It took two years to learn how to pronounce “Oregon,” “Willamette,” and “Clatskanie.”   

We had no family on the Left Coast and it was too expensive to fly five people back for every holiday. Sigh. 

Somehow the Oregonians knew we were homesick. New friends invited us to Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas tree-trims and summer fun on the Pacific Coast or the Columbia River Gorge.  

The friends who took us in during what we called our “pioneer” years in Oregon are friends for life.   

The loneliness of being outsiders lifted. When newcomers arrived, we showed them the ropes. We coached them on the proper pronunciation of Oregon place names and the appropriateness of plaid flannel shirts and jeans for everything except the most formal occasions. 

Something happened. It started on the outside but slowly moved toward the inside—deep into our hearts—turning each of us into a kind of hybrid New York-Oregonian. Our daughter, who was then four, invented a name for us: Newyoregonians. 

Time continued to move forward. Kirk was offered a job in France. It was an offer we couldn’t refuse. Our daughters were 16, 14 and 12. Portland was their hometown. There were many tearful goodbyes when we packed up and moved to Paris in 2006.  

That Oregon head-to-heart connection? It’s still there. Our daughters, now in their mid-twenties to (gasp) thirty, still refer to themselves as Oregonians.  

Along with our garden, our girls planted their roots in the rich soil of Portland. They developed strong wings, too, that have taken them to the four corners of the world.  

They always know where home is. 

And when Kirk and I return, however briefly, that deep feeling of connection wells up and somehow reaches our eyes.  

Did we leave our mark on Oregon? I’m not sure. But Oregon left its mark on us. And, like the ink from a Portland tattoo shop, it’s permanent. 

Patricia Conover loves books. She’s especially drawn to biographies, historical novels and travel memoirs. Born and raised in a suburb of New York City, she spent her first career at G.P Putnam’s Sons and Random House. She became a freelance writer after moving to Oregon. She’s written essays, features, profiles and criticism for publications including The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Oregonian, Kirkus Reviews and The Montclair Local.

Patricia is currently a project editor and writer for Going Global, publisher of guidebooks on culture, careers, economies, education, health, and travel. She’s also an English instructor. You can connect with Patricia on twitter @ParisRhapsody.

***

Editor’s note: Patricia and I have known each other long enough to agree we don’t want to know the precise number of years. Suffice to say that we met in the days when print journalism was thriving and before the internet as we know it was created in 1990. Though we’ve lived on opposite coasts for most of our careers, that was hasn’t gotten in the way of mutual appreciation and admiration. She’s a fine writer and a fine human being.

Tomorrow: Melissa Jones | Please print! And don’t recycle.

Chasing Kristin

Colorful signage marks the Kristin Armstrong Bikeway in Boise.

By John Killen

The road keeps climbing in front of me.  There are almost no trees.  Instead, the brown hillside is dotted with stocky blue-green sagebrush.   

The low cloud cover that was shielding the sun’s rays for much of the morning is burning off, so the temperature is climbing.  And I’m running low on water. 

But I’m wondering:  What would Kristin do? 

She’d keep going, of course. 

I should have started earlier in the day.  In fact, that was my plan.  I was going to begin my ride by 9 a.m.  But as I often do, I procrastinated.  I was staying with my brother-in-law, Galen Louis, at his condo in southeast Boise, and we were having a pleasant post-breakfast conversation about community theater, one of his passions in retirement. 

Before long, it was 10:20 a.m. Aargh.  Time to put on my cycling gear and go.  It’s supposed to climb well north of 90 again today, which is pretty normal for Boise in August. 

Galen has been battling some health issues and my sister, Peggy, was going to be out of town for a few days.  He said he would be fine, but she was a bit concerned, so I said I could come over to Boise for a few days and keep him company. 

And I had an ulterior motive.  Boise has some mighty fine cycling. So I threw some clothes and my road bike into the back of my old Volvo wagon and headed east. 

One ride that I wanted to try while there was the road that heads from town up to the Bogus Basin ski area.  It’s a steady climb, rising about 3,400 feet over 15 miles.  The road takes you from the foothills of Boise – elevation 2,700 feet — to the base of the ski area, which is about 5,700 feet. 

I had done this route once before, but that was 43 years ago when Marlie (my wife-to-be) and I were living in Boise. I was 25.  Now I’m 68.  But I’m a pretty avid cyclist and I do a fair amount of climbing in Portland’s West Hills, so I figured I could handle it.   

I wasn’t sure I would do the full 15 miles. Instead, I wanted to see how far I could get from the time I left the condo and headed up the road, which is in north Boise.  

So I aimed my bike north, turned west when I reached the gorgeous Boise River Greenbelt, pedaled through the Boise State University campus, and then took North 13th. I knew it would take me to the base of the climb. 

All the while, my mind was alternating between the traffic and thoughts of Kristin Armstrong.  For those who don’t follow competitive cycling, Armstrong is a bit of a legend — and a Boise resident.   

A former swimmer, distance runner and triathlete, she focused on cycling in the late 1990s and developed her true talent.  She won gold medals in the 2008, 2012 and 2016 Olympics in the time trial discipline.  She also won world championships in that event in 2006 and 2009. 

Along the way, she also helped promote cycling and bicycle racing in the Boise area.  Boise responded.  The city these days has a burgeoning network of cycling pathways, cycling events and bike boulevards.  It also has some of the best single-track riding in the West.  

In thanks, Boise renamed a city park after Armstrong and — more to the point — has designated Bogus Basin Road as the Kristin Armstrong Bikeway. 

Which is where I am right now. 

Awhile back, I passed the 3,000 foot marker and I’ve lost count of number of switchbacks as I climb — slowly but steadily — up the grade.  

I look down at my Garmin — the small bike computer fixed to my handle bars — and note that I’m averaging about 6 to 9 miles an hour.  Not speedy, but not bad given the heat and the steady 4 to 8 percent incline. 

So far, I’ve seen more bikes than cars on the road, which is nice.  It’s a Tuesday and most of Boise is at work, so that makes sense. 

I’ve heard stories that this was one of Armstrong’s main training regimens as she prepared for the Olympics.  I can see why.  I’ve climbed steeper grades in Portland’s West Hills, but none of them go on and on — and on — like this one does.   

I pass the 3-mile marker, the 5-mile marker and then the 7-mile marker.  Another sign says 4,000 feet. The heat is starting to build.  The grade isn’t doing me any favors.   

I’ve finished off one of my two water bottles and take a sip from the second.  I also pour just a bit through the slots on the back of my helmet. The cool water runs down my neck and onto my back.  The relief is short-lived, but much appreciated. 

A lone wild sunflower highlights the foreground while the city of Boise can be seen in the deep background, below the switchbacks.

I don’t know where Armstrong lives but I find myself wondering if there’s any chance I might see her as I climb.  I know she’s retired, but I hear she still rides.  In fact, I saw her on a YouTube broadcast a day or two ago when she was helping promote a cycling event in Boise. She looked ready to race. 

She’s actually become a sort of hero to me, partly because she’s a champion cyclist, partly because what she’s done for cycling in Boise – and the world. 

And there’s the fact that I actually met her once – sort of.   

It was in the summer of 2002 and Marlie and I were in Boise for our niece’s wedding.  The ceremony was actually held at one of the lodges at the top of Bogus Basin Road. Our niece, Brooke, was also a former collegiate distance runner and had converted — like Armstrong — to cycling.  She also had found that she could excel on two wheels and had been invited to join the women’s T-Mobile professional team with Armstrong. 

They became friends and Armstrong and some of her other teammates were among the bridesmaids at Brooke’s wedding.  I can’t say I have strong memories of her or the others, but I do recall being introduced to several very tan and fit-looking young women wearing bridesmaid dresses. 

There’s the 8-mile marker.  I’m about halfway through the second water bottle. The clouds are gone and the sun is truly getting hot. 

I’m also thinking about the fact that I told Galen I would be home by 1:30  p.m.  I do some mental calculations.  I know I will descend about three times faster than I am ascending. I roll the numbers around in my head.  I pass the 9-mile marker, and take another drink. 

I’m actually still feeling pretty good. Up ahead, I can see that I’m not too far from entering the pine forest that starts up at about 5,000 feet. Shade!  I also know that just after that, the road flattens out considerably and most of the climbing will be behind me. 

A little less than 1,000 feet and I’m on top. But there’s not enough time.  Not enough water.  And honestly, maybe not enough energy. 

Time to turn around. 

This photo looks uphill from the spot where I turned around. You can see that I was just getting into the pine forest.

I pull over, snap a couple of photos with my iPhone and begin the downhill spin.  I can hear the gentle, rapid clicking from the rear hub of my bike.  

I’m coasting at about 25 to 30 miles per hour.  The rushing air feels cool.  Boise is in the distance below, but crawling steadily closer. 

I’m mildly disappointed that I didn’t keep going, but I did climb about 2,600 feet, so it was definitely a good workout. Also, the Bikeway is well kept and the pavement was smooth. And very few cars.  As a cyclist, you can’t ask for much more. 

And as it turns out, I just missed Kristin. 

I’m a member of Strava, which is a social network for cyclists and runners.  One of its features is called “fly by.” After a ride or run, it allows you to see other Strava members who you passed or who may have passed you or ridden near you. 

I mouse over to “fly by” and there, two names below mine, is “Kristin.” 

What?  I click on the name to get more info.  Sure enough, the rider’s full name is Kristin Armstrong of Boise, Idaho.  I click on her route from that morning and realize she and I just missed each other.  She was riding some nearby roads as I was climbing the Bikeway.  In fact, for a brief time, we were probably within a few hundred yards of each other. 

For a second, I wondered what I would have said had I seen her. 

But I knew.   I would have smiled and waved and felt a momentary surge of excitement — and just said thank you.   

Marlie and John Killen

John Killen is a retired journalist. He worked for The Oregonian for 27 years and for two other newspapers before that. He now spends his time riding his bike and helping his wife Marlie take care of their two granddaughters.

Editor’s note: John and I started at almost the same time at The Oregonian. Though I’ve never biked with him, we’ve found common interests in teaching, basketball, bowling, hiking, journalism, parenting and now grand-parenting.

Tomorrow: Patricia Conover | Thoughts on returning to Oregon