Sunshine and softball

Pink ribbons symbolizing cancer awareness flank the Portland State logo at Gordon Faber Recreation Complex in Hillsboro.

As a sports fan and member of the Portland State University faculty, I’ve always wanted to be supportive of our school’s student-athletes. Friday afternoon gave me a chance to do that, with the women’s softball team holding its final home stand of the season in nearby Hillboro.

I set aside a pile of papers I was grading and made the 20-minute drive to the Gordon Faber Recreational Complex, where I took a seat behind home plate and settled in for a couple hours of exciting action on a sun-drenched afternoon.

I couldn’t have picked a better time to show up.

— The Lady Vikings were taking on Weber State, the first-place team in the Sky West Conference in which PSU competes. The visitors from Utah had a 12-1 record in conference play compared to Portland State’s 7 wins, 7 losses.

Handmade signs show support for family and friends during the StrikeOut Cancer game.

— The Viks were wearing pink jerseys because they were hosting a StrikeOut Cancer game. The outfield grass featured two giant pink ribbons on either side of the school logo, and two cancer survivors — each related to a Portland State player — threw out a ceremonial first pitch. On the receiving end of the pitches were the daughter and niece of those respective cancer survivors.

A breast cancer survivor prepares to embrace her niece, a PSU player, after throwing a ceremonial first pitch.

— Coincidentally, one of the players was a former student of mine. I had Kaela Morrow in the very first class I taught at PSU, when she was just a sophomore. She earned all-conference honors last year as a junior, and on Saturday she was one of three players honored during Senior Day at the final home game of the season.

Kaela Morrow, star athlete and star student, between games of Friday’s doubleheader.

— During the just-completed winter quarter, Kaela was among a group of Communications majors I supervised in an academic internship class. She got a taste of journalism by writing a blog for the PSU Athletic Department called Kaela’s Corner, which she used to interview teammates and provide an insider’s view of the season’s ups and downs.

The game I watched Friday was well-played and closely contested. Weber State took a 3-2 lead into the final inning and scored 4 more runs, only to have Portland State rally with a two-out, 3-run home run that cut the deficit to a final score of 7-5. (I didn’t stick around for the second game of the doubleheader, but Weber State won that one, too.)

What I saw was plenty entertaining. These young women are superb athletes. I saw outfielders make diving catches, and infielders make back-handed stops and sharp throws. The pitchers for each team zipped the ball hard and fast, resulting in an audible “pop” every time it landed in the catcher’s mitt. Batters whacked the ball or laid down bunts, and displayed considerable speed running the bases.

The Lady Vikings gather with their coach after a tough 7-5 loss.

The atmosphere was as casual as could be. The players on each team served as their own cheerleaders. Sporting ribbons in their hair and paint on their faces, they cheered, chanted and clapped, and exchanged elaborate high-fives during pre-game introductions. You could sense a real camaraderie among the players.

As a spectator, you could sit on metal bleachers behind home plate or either side of it, or stand wherever you liked. (Weber State had a rooting section of its own along the first-base line.)

You could also watch from a grassy berm beyond the outfield fence, and plenty of spectators chose to do that, sunning themselves in the process. I made my way out there during the last inning and was pleasantly surprised when the Vikings’ clean-up hitter bashed a fly ball that sailed over the left field fence. The yellow ball landed a few feet away from me and I scooped it up, thinking what a cool souvenir it would make. A member of the PSU game crew came out to get it, however, and I gave it up without a second thought.

A home run by Rachel Manlove landed a few feet away from me.

In my three years of teaching at PSU, I’ve had various athletic team members in my classes, ranging from football, basketball and soccer to the most recent, tennis, cross country, and track and field. I’ve managed to see two men’s basketball games, but nothing else.

Teaching Sports and the Media this year, I’ve gained a greater respect for these young men and women who compete at the NCAA’s Division I level. Not only must they put in long hours of practice and travel time, they often have to deal with injuries, high performance expectations from coaches and fans, and mental stress — all while keeping up with their studies.

Friday was a chance to show support for the softball team while taking a much-needed break from my own workload. I’d call that a win-win, no matter what the scoreboard said.

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London stories: A feast for the eyes

George at the Victoria & Albert Museum, one of London’s finest.

I don’t want to jinx myself, but things seem to be ramping up quite nicely for the 2.0 version of my Media Literacy in London course.

As of Tuesday, when I held the last of four information sessions about the course, a total of 14 students on two campuses have opened applications to be part of the class this year, with a couple more expected in the coming days. Six students participated last year in the inaugural year, and I hope to register 10-12 for the two-week program in July.

While Portland State’s Education Abroad office has been amazingly supportive with suggestions and resources, it still falls upon the individual faculty member to market a study abroad course like this one. So, in addition to getting the word out by speaking to several Communications classes since September, I’ve been sharing photos from last year’s trip during the info sessions.

And, hey, that gives me a good excuse to share some of my favorites here.

From the moment I landed at Heathrow Airport, I knew I was in for an amazing experience in London. It’s an incredibly diverse, dynamic city where centuries-old buildings can be found alongside modern structures, and the history and traditions are everywhere you go.

Thanks to a panoramic bus tour on Day Two and a walking tour of Fleet Street on Day 8, both led by professional guides who were born and raised in London, my students and I got a wonderful introduction to the city and its history and many of its most famous landmarks.

With my students outside Buckingham Palace, the principal residence of Queen Elizabeth.

In between, on a Sunday morning, we also enjoyed a narrated tour of the city skyline as we floated along the River Thames toward Greenwich, a borough in southeast London that is a World Heritage Site and offers spectacular views from Greenwich Park.

I can’t possibly name them all, but I can say that I still remember fondly seeing such attractions as Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, London Bridge, Tower Bridge, the Tower of London and St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Here are some of the images from the summer of 2018. I’ll follow up with more, tied to specific themes, in the weeks and months to come.

Click on an image to move easily through the photo galleries.

Spacey Kacey in Portland

On Monday night, I was among the lucky fans who filled the Schnitz to see the remarkable Kacey Musgraves.

When tickets for Kacey Musgraves’ Portland show went on sale last fall, I wasted no time getting mine. I’d missed her on a couple of previous visits to the city, and I didn’t want it to happen a third time.

Well, talk about great timing. Monday night’s sold-out show at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall brought Kacey to town riding high on her Grammy Award-winning laurels of the previous weekend: Album of the Year, Best Country Album, Best Country Song, Best Country Solo Performance.

During a 90-minute set, she drew heavily from “Golden Hour,” her third and most accomplished album yet. She was great, almost effortlessly so.

I’ve been a fan of Kacey since she burst onto the scene in 2013 with “Same Trailer Different Park,” the debut album that earned her Best Country Album along with Best Country Song (Merry Go ‘Round) at the 2014 Grammys. It was a track from that same album, “Follow Your Arrow,” that I especially liked — a song that’s as un-country as you can imagine, with references to marijuana and a girl-on-girl kiss.

Kacey hails from a small town in Texas, and her voice is unmistakably country. Yet she continues to evolve as a songwriter with a sound that ranges from classic country to pop to ethereal to disco — yes, disco.

On Monday, I found myself appreciating several songs with lush melodies built on layers of instrumentation.

During mid-show introductions of her excellent band members, there were the usual ones on guitar, drums and bass, but also on banjo, pedal steel guitar, cello and keyboards.

Kacey says of her music: “Undeniably, I’m a country singer; I’m a country songwriter. But I feel like I make country music for people who like country music and for people who don’t.”

If you’ve never heard Kacey Musgraves, give a listen to the videos below, recorded live in Los Angeles, London and New York. All are from the new album. “Wonder Woman” is mid-tempo. “Golden Hour” is mellow. “High Horse” is a throwback to the days of disco. It’s the song she saved for last Monday night, the one that got everyone out of their seats.



From my seat in the upper balcony, I could hold my thumb and forefinger an inch apart and squint toward the stage, where I could see Kacey: a distant, slender figure in a shimmery outfit, with long dark hair and a relaxed stage presence that invited everyone to enjoy a golden hour and a half of wonderful music.

There she is. A tiny figure as seen from Section 1, Row V, Seat 1.

She calls herself @spaceykacey on Instagram, but she came across as pretty down-to-earth to me, relaxed and relatable.

At just 30 years old (yikes, one year younger than our youngest child), Kacey Musgraves has already collected six Grammys and won a worldwide following. I don’t know what she’ll do to top “Golden Hour,” but I’m pretty sure she’ll find a way.

Reclaiming my Fridays

George and Brian, scraping off the rust at a Portland bowling alley.

When the year began I pledged to regularly set aside time each Friday to step away from my schoolwork and do something for my mental or physical health. Otherwise, my four-day work week can easily slop over into a fifth weekday.

Yesterday, I got a belated start on that little promise to myself. I arranged with a buddy to go bowling during the middle of the day. In the evening, I was part of a group of guys who took in a Winterhawks hockey game.

Talk about dude time.

My friend Brian Wartell and I hit the lanes during the noon hour at Kingpins in Southeast Portland. Now that we’re of a certain age, those senior bowling prices look pretty good — $2.25 per game.

We brushed the cobwebs off our bowling balls, bowled three games each, and shared a couple of menu items that definitely did not involve kale.

Brian and George between bites of quesadilla.

Brian and I had bowled together for years on a team that saw a revolving cast of characters, but had to give it up when the places we used to play were sold and redeveloped for other uses — a hardware store (since gone out of business) and a Target store.

Friday was so much fun we agreed we need to reunite with some of our teammates in the coming months.

In the evening, I met up with David Quisenberry, a friend I met through our years-ago service on a nonprofit board. We both enjoy watching hockey (he’s actually a former high school player) but hadn’t been to a game together in a while, owing partly to David’s responsibilities as a young father and my own workload as an adjunct on two college campuses.

A friend of David’s and three other guys joined us and we all enjoyed the action in the old-school Veterans Memorial Coliseum, a far more intimate venue than the Moda Center, where the NBA Trail Blazers play.

The Winterhawks beat the visiting Vancouver Giants, 3-0, and sent us home happy. We each got a trucker-style souvenir baseball cap, so that was a bonus.

Portland players celebrate a 3-0 win over Vancouver.

Actually, the entertainment began well before the puck dropped. There was a KISS farewell tour concert going on at the adjcaent Moda Center, so there was a festive Halloween-like vibe with crowds of people lining up to get in to see the old rockers. Some had done up their faces like the band, while others settled for black lipstick or T-shirts proclaiming themselves fans of AC-DC, Iron Maiden, Alice Cooper and the like.

It was quite the scene inside Jack’s, with the KISS crowd mingling inside the restaurant alongside hockey fans in their Winterhawks jerseys.

I know every Friday won’t be like this, but yesterday felt like a good first step toward a New Year’s resolution I’d be happy to keep.

The power of storytelling, mentoring and the arts


Cynthia Carmina Gómez, co-writer of the play “Voz Alta: Generaciones,” is a friend and professional colleague at Portland State University.

I love books and I love movies, but sometimes live theater is the best medium for telling a story.

Last Saturday, Lori and I attended a matinee performance of “Voz Alta: Generaciones,” a bare-bones production in a tiny basement theater at Portland State University. We came away from the 90-minute experience enriched and inspired — and wishing everyone we know could have seen it, too.

What did we like about it so much? How about everything.

The story: On the surface, it’s a dramatization of the lives of two Latino artists, Rodolfo (Rudy) Serna and Jesus Torralba, who live and work in Portland.  At another level, it’s a story about how each of those men was mentored by someone here in Portland and, in turn, how they have mentored someone else.

The presentation: Forget the usual theatrical production, where you have actors moving about on a stage, sometimes on more than one set. Instead, imagine five actors seated on bistro-style chairs with a microphone in front of each of them, rising only to deliver their lives. They are wearing everyday clothes, there are no costume changes, and the only props are a scarf and a pair of eyeglasses. Three of the five play more than one character, relying on their voice, diction and body language to convey the differences. Stripped-down? You bet.

The cast: The ensemble is made up of three men, a teenage boy and one striking woman. She is seated in the middle of the row of five and it is she who uses that one piece of fabric and the eyeglasses to transition from one character to another, from an abuela (a grandmother) to two mothers (each one the parent of a different male character) to a newlywed teenage girl to a social services agency employee. Behind the actors are two musicians, one singing in Spanish and playing acoustic guitar, the other playing a pan flute and guitar.

The setting: If the Boiler Room Theater at Lincoln Hall sounds like a minimalist space, you’ve got the right idea. It’s intimate, all right. We were seated in the front row, less than 10 feet from the actors, with maybe three more rows behind us and four more rows ascending to the left of us. Two ceiling-to-floor murals and a third one behind the actors and musicians provided all the visuals.

The narrative: Two characters are at the heart of the story. One is a middle-aged man named Rodolfo, the son of divorced parents in Chicago who left home as a teenager (“I had to be my own dad,” he says.), marries young, divorces young, finds stability in the military and makes his way to Portland, where he is accepted at Portland State, earns a degree, and finds work as an artist and mentor working with at-risk and gang-involved youth.

The other is a teenager named Jesus, a light-skinned Mexican American kid and self-styled graffiti artist who finds trouble on Portland’s streets and seems headed for the gang life. Authorities steer him to the agency where Rodolfo works and he finds a connection there with the older man through their shared interest in painting. Jesus learns to trust, develops self -confidence and also gets hired as a youth mentor.

The reality: The beauty of this play is that it is the true story of four people who are giving back to the community. In real life, Rodolfo and Jesus work with at-risk and gang-involved youth in Multnomah and Washington County through the Community Healing Initiative, a collaborative partnership among several nonprofits and local and state agencies. The teenager who plays Jesus is Jose Ruiz Valentine, who in real life is an aspiring artist who was mentored by Jesus and who recently also became a youth mentor himself. Finally, real-life Rodolfo made it through college with the guidance and support of his own mentor — Cynthia Carmina Gómez, a Portland State administrator with a long record of directing community leadership and Latino mentoring programs.

The back story: Cynthia is not only executive director of PSU’s Cultural Resource Centers, she is also pursuing a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. This was her first play — co-written with Joaquin Lopez, the guitarist and singer who performed so beautifully during Saturday’s play — and she invited Lori and me to attend.

I met Cynthia several years ago when I was still writing for The Oregonian and she was working for the Latino Network. (Read my interview with Cynthia here.) We got to know each other as professional colleagues and I wound up writing a letter of recommendation for her graduate program, She was accepted, of course, and just before she began her MFA studies, she wrote a piece for my annual Voices of August guest blog project. (You can read that piece here.)

The big picture: I had three major takeaways.

One, you don’t need to spend big sums of money to deliver a message. The production was stripped down to the essentials, yet the simplicity helped drive home the idea of saving one life at a time through the arts and heartfelt mentoring.

Two, seeing a wonderful collaboration of Latino actors, musicians and writers filled me with Mexican American pride. There are other arts groups in the city, notably Teatro Milagro, that perform Latino-themed work. This one was particularly sweet because the experience was so intimate and the characters so relatable to the culture I grew up in.

Three, it made me appreciate living in a medium-sized city, where I not only can say I know one of the playwrights, but that I am familiar with the agencies involved in the Community Healing Initiative and their work. It was great to see this web of connections come alive in front of me.

If you’ve read this far, you owe to yourself to watch this: Jose, the focus of this video, is the teenage actor who plays his mentor, Jesus.

Ruminating about ‘Roma’

The director Alfonso Cuarón in the Colonia Roma neighborhood, near where he grew up in Mexico City.

You’d think I’d fall in love with “Roma,” the film that’s earned critical praise and a slew of international prizes in the last year. After all, it’s a drama (my favorite genre) set in Mexico; written, produced and filmed by an acclaimed Mexican director; and featuring a Mixtec woman as lead actress.

Last week, at the Golden Globes Awards, the film won Best Motion Picture – Foreign Language and Alfonso Cuarón was named Best Director by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.

The honors didn’t surprise me, but my initial reaction to the film gave me pause. Why didn’t I gush over it the way I did “The Shape of Water,” a fantastical fairy tale about an assuming deaf-mute janitor and a sea creature being held in captivity? That, too, was written and directed by another accomplished Mexican, Guillermo del Toro, and I found it refreshingly uplifting.

I think a small part of the answer lies in watching “Roma” on the small screen at home (thank you, Netflix), which lessened the impact of the black-and-white wide-screen cinematography. A larger part, I think, stems from not having adequate context.

It wasn’t until after I’d read a couple of reviews that I even grasped the meaning of the movie’s title, let alone its autobiographical theme. The film is named for Colonia Roma, the well-to-do neighborhood in Mexico City where Cuarón grew up in a home with domestic help. The movie was filmed there with painstaking care given to recreating the 1970s era of his youth.

In the film, a young woman named Cleo works as a live-in maid and nanny for a family of five (plus a live-in grandmother) who take her for granted as she rises early to wake the kids; cooks, cleans and does mountains of laundry by hand; and helps the harried mother from unraveling while her doctor-husband is away at a conference.

Yalitza Aparicio plays Cleo, and it’s a marvelous thing to see an indigenous woman in a starring role. But it’s a slow-moving film — purposely slow — and while there are a couple of dramatic life-and-death scenes in a hospital and at an ocean resort, there’s no tidy resolution either.

But after learning more about Cuarón’s back story and taking into account some discussion about the technical aspects of the film by two leading movie critics, I think this is one film that I need to see again.

I’d like to think I’m not overly swayed by reviews, as I recognize that critics and the public often are at odds on what they consider a good film. In this case, these reviews in The New York Times and Los Angeles Times, and an interview with Cuarón himself, shed a lot more light on the director’s intentions in making “Roma.”

‘Roma’ lives up to lofty expectations with a beautiful, deliberate and ultimately moving portrait of domestic life – Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times

‘Roma’ Review: Alfonso Cuarón’s Masterpiece of Memory – Manohla Dargis, The New York Times

Mexico City as the Director of ‘Roma’ Remembers It (and Hears It) – Kirk Semple, The New York Times

Now the question is, when do I find time for a second viewing?

Photograph: Adriana Zehbrauskas for The New York Times

London stories: Hyde Park

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On my first weekend in London last summer, I visited Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens.

I had the best of intentions last summer when I returned from England to share my experiences in a series of posts I was going to call “London stories.”

I produced exactly one. And funny thing, it wasn’t even about London. It was about my day trip to Oxford, an hour outside the city, where I stumbled upon something called “Soapbox Science.”

Well, here goes Round 2. If I don’t give myself a kick in the arse, it’ll never get done. (Besides, this is a good way to start thinking ahead to July, when I’ll return to teach Media Literacy to a new group of students.)

So why not start with the same place where I literally began my visit last summer? That would be Hyde Park, a big and beautiful green space that I explored during my first weekend in the city.

If you’ve ever visited New York City’s Central Park, then you have an idea of Hyde Park. It’s a gathering place for Londoners of all ages and social classes — a living, breathing tapestry of people sharing a public space with room for everyone. With more than 600 acres of greenery, the park has multiple entrances and activities of all kinds.

On my Sunday afternoon visit, I saw skateboarders, bicyclists and joggers on the paved paths; tourists and residents out for a walk; young adults and couples sunning themselves or cooling off in the shade; families picnicking on blankets; and people of all kinds, in hijabs and baseball caps, renting canoes and paddle boats on a man-made lake. All of this, plus a view of central London in the distance, made for a very inviting, cosmopolitan feel.

I accessed the park from the south side, just across the street from the Royal Albert Hall, where Adele and The Beatles and so many other musicians have performed, and passed by the ostentatious Albert Memorial, named for Prince Albert (Queen Victoria’s husband), right at the entrance.

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As I wandered through, I passed by a grassy area where performers with a Flying Trapeze School were giving lessons, and later spotted a huge sign listing live music and theater at the park. Paul Simon was scheduled that evening, a night after Bruno Mars and a week after Eric Clapton had performed. Damn!

For lack of time, I decided to forgo a visit to the far northeast corner of the park to see the famed Speakers’ Corner, where soapbox orators can pontificate to their heart’s delight. Instead I made my way to the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain. It was the liveliest area of the park, with parents joining their children in an ankle-deep circular stream of cooling water.

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From there, I walked along the north perimeter of the park, adjacent to the trendy Notting Hill neighborhood, and headed for the western part of the park, known as Kensington Gardens.

If I didn’t know better, I would have thought I was still in Portland. Shaded trees, quiet paths shared by walkers and bicyclists, and a wonderfully relaxed vibe made me think of Laurelhurst Park in my own city. There are several markers and plaques describing the area’s history and wildlife, including foxes and Great Blue Herons, and I was pleasantly surprised by the park’s scenic lagoons.

Eventually, I made it to Kensington Palace in the southwest corner of the park. The elegant structure was the royal residence for nearly 150 years, from 1689 to 1837, before Buckingham Palace took over that role. Queen Victoria, the longest-serving British monarch during a 64-year reign that ended in 1901, was born here.

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Today it serves as the official residence of the young royals — William and Kate, Harry and Meghan. I balked at the admission price for a tour, especially as the day was winding down, and settled for a photo of the exterior.

I had begun the day by visiting two museums. After a long walk in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, I was more than ready to head home and rest my feet. But as I did, I felt I had treated myself to the best possible introduction to this amazing city.

Viking Pavilion

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With my buddy Steve Beaven, formerly a reporter at The Oregonian and a writer for the Portland State University Foundation.

Portland State’s new Viking Pavilion opened in April with a lot of fanfare on the South Park Blocks — and now I can see why. The $52 million facility provides a new home for the university’s basketball and volleyball teams at the south end of campus.

The 3,000-seat arena has, at most, only about a third of the capacity of its two in-state sister institutions, the University of Oregon and Oregon State University, which both play in the more prestigious Pacific 12 Conference.

But the smaller scale is a big part of the appeal of Portland State’s arena. Having been there twice now, I can say that the more intimate space makes it a fun place to watch a game.

Last night, I went with a friend and former work colleague, Steve Beaven, to see PSU play its last preseason game of the year against Cal State Bakersfield. A couple weeks earlier, I went on my own, as a respite from Finals Week, to see PSU take on its intercity rival, the University of Portland.

The Vikings lost a close one last night, 76-71, but easily defeated the U of P,  87-78.

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I sat in the general admission area for the first game and had a great view from the second-level seats. At the second game, it was an even better view from the reserved section, just two rows back from the floor at mid-court. The action is so much faster and the athleticism so much more apparent when you’re that close.

The venue itself is open and inviting, and there’s not a bad seat in the house. At one end of the arena, you can sit as if you were at a long bar counter and look out onto the action. At the other end, there is a reserved section for large groups. On either side, there are additional reserved sections that pass for suites. (Nobody was using them at last night’s game.  Not a surprise, given the low stakes of a non-conference game when students are off for the winter break.)

There are just two concession stands and a couple of places to get a beer or cider (yes, cider, this being Portland). There is also a display of exhibits featuring Hall of Fame athletes as you enter the building.

During halftime last night, I noticed a couple members of the coed stunt team join the line for a snack, something you definitely wouldn’t see at the Moda Center, where the NBA’s Trail Blazers play. That little vignette underscored my overall take of the Viking Pavilion — that the place has the cozy feel of a high school gym.

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I’d never attended a PSU game before now. There was little incentive last year, when the Vikings had to play their home games across town at Lewis and Clark College. Now I’m inclined to go back again.

With affordable prices, convenient parking on the street and entertaining basketball, what’s not to like?

 

Trivia for a good cause

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Members of The Young and The Restless team at trivia night. Clockwise from left: Tom, Richard, Elsa, Lori and George.

Weeknights can be pretty routine at home and pretty slow at most restaurants and bars. But schedule a trivia contest and everyone wins.

Tuesday night found us at a North Portland brewpub where we joined family and friends at a fundraiser for the Oregon Center for Public Policy, a Portland nonprofit that does research and analysis of tax, budget and economic issues affecting Oregon residents.

The event was billed as Economic Justice Trivia night, in partnership with Willamette Week’s annual Give!Guide and in keeping with the Center’s focus on support for policies advancing dequity and inclusion. We were there at the invitation of our daughter Simone, who serves on the OCPP board of directors. We, in turn, invited our friends, Tom and Elsa Guiney, and the four of us had a great evening.

How could we not?

The food and drinks were just fine. We made a new friend. The trivia contest was fun and educational. We showed our support for the Center with a donation. And, to top it off, Tom walked away with the evening’s top prize — a basketful of goodies that included a candy-filled mug and a year’s worth of free haircuts.

The event was held at the Lucky Labrador North Taproom, a spacious and well-lit brewpub in the Overlook neighborhood. I’d say about 60-70 people attended, including guests and OCPP staff, and about seven teams competed to answer two rounds of questions. Simone’s wife, Kyndall, was part of a team.

Naturally, the Guineys and Redes formed a team, too, and we called it The Young and The Restless. A friendly guy named Richard was sitting at our table. He joined in as our teammate and helped us come up with answers to a slew of questions involving Oregon tax policy, state and national politics, and elected officials.

For instance:

We knew that there are 90 seats in the Oregon Legislature, that Tina Kotek is the Oregon Speaker of the House, and that Val Hoyle is commissioner-elect of the Bureau of Labor and Industries. But we overestimated the minimum wage (it’s $12 an hour in the metro area) and we didn’t realize that the home mortgage deduction is the largest housing subsidy program in Oregon — not the Section 8 renter assistance program, as we assumed.

Not your everyday topics of conversation, right?

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We finished in a tie for third place, a respectable showing. More important, it felt good to support an organization that works for the common good in Salem; good to support Simone, who is leaving the board after 4 1/2 years of service; and good to make a new friend.

Turns out our teammate, Richard Gilliam, moved from Chicago to Oregon many years ago to work as an labor organizer. These days, he works in the construction industry,  mentors young men at Jefferson High School and three other Portland public schools, and volunteers on community issues and campaigns.

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Richard Gilliam brought warmth and wisdom (and an occasional right answer) to The Young and The Restless team.

We’re going to try to meet for coffee and learn more about each other. With any luck, we’ll make a stronger showing at the next trivia contest.

 

A date with my daughter

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With my wonderful daughter Simone.

Not to be all Grinchy about it, but I prefer to take holiday music in small doses — and the closer to Christmas Day the better.

But I made an exception this year, and for good reason. My daughter and I went out a week ago today to see LeAnn Rimes in concert at a casino north of Portland. I’ve always liked LeAnn from the first time I heard her as a teenager sounding like a young Patsy Cline.

I knew she was scheduled to perform at the Ilani Resort casino in Ridgefield, Washington. But I also knew Lori wouldn’t go with me on a Sunday night (she’s gotta get up really early to teach a Monday group fitness class). And, truth be told, I had my own hesitation because LeAnn was going to perform a set of Christmas-themed songs.

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Ilani Resort, located off Interstate 5, is owned by the Cowlitz Tribe of SW Washington in partnership with the Mohegan Tribe of Connecticut.

But when Simone — out of the blue and much to my delight — asked if I wanted to go to the concert, I jumped at the opportunity. First and foremost, spending time with my grown-up girl is always a delight. Secondly, I’d never been to the casino in the nearly two years since it opened 25 miles north of Portland. And, thirdly, I’d get my chance to see a favorite artist in concert, even if it wasn’t exactly how I’d imagined it.

Turns out I hit the jackpot on all three counts.

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Dad and daughter at home, with our pink pencil Christmas tree.

***

The evening began with a scrumptious dinner at Longhouse, one of 10 restaurants on site at the casino. Ilani made a decision to break from the norm by not offering the all-you-can-eat buffet that is standard at other casinos. As a result, you can pick from several restaurants ranging from budget to fancy, offering steaks, seafood, Asian, Italian or Northwest cuisine, all situated on the perimeter of the gambling floor.

We chose Longhouse, a sleek place that provided us with two seats at the counter where we could watch the chef fill steaming bowls and tantalizing dishes of Japanese food. We opted for hoisin wings, shrimp shumai, a rainbow sushi roll, and a sunomono salad. All of it was so good.

The concert was fun. We joined hundreds of others in a huge ballroom where chairs were arranged in rows just as if you were attending a conference. No risers, no V.I.P. section, no balcony. Just rows from front to back, filled with people who looked like they’d turned out for an AARP gathering. Not kidding, but the median age appeared to be 70.

Guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, given that casinos draw an older crowd. And with this being a Sunday night, anyone who had to get up early for work the next day would have had to take that into account.

We were about 20 rows from the stage with a good view of LeAnn, trim and dressed in white, and her three-piece band. They rocked it for more than an hour, mostly performing holiday songs as advertised. Imagine electrified versions of  “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree”  and “Angels We Have Heard on High” among others. But she also delivered a few of her hits, too, transitioning from “Blue Christmas” to “Blue,” the title track of her debut album, while the stage lights were cleverly turned to blue.

She also worked in “Can’t Fight The Moonlight” and “How Do I Live” and “One Way Ticket.” If I had my way, she would have done a couple of Patsy Cline covers, too — “Crazy” and “I Fall To Pieces.”

Now 36, LeAnn still has the same powerful voice that caught my ear in the late ’90s and a comfortable stage presence that reflects years of performing since she was a child. When she invited the crowd to join her in singing a verse or two of one song, I was happy to see Simone jump right in. One of my fond memories as a father is seeing her perform with choral groups in middle school, high school and college, as well as with a couple of mixed-age community groups based in the Portland area.

***

After the concert,  we headed to the slot machines. A surreal experience, for sure, with gaudy artificial lights, rows upon rows of machines, and lots of wishful thinkers chasing their dreams of a big payout.

I took out four one-dollar bills and we lost. I took out two five-dollar bills and we lost.  Never seen $14 vanish that quickly — well, not all of it.

Simone cashed in her winnings — 45 cents — and we called it a night. I pocketed my take — two nickels — and as we drove back home to Portland, I was a happy man. Had a great meal, got a chance to gamble, saw a talented singer and, best of all, spent time with my daughter.

Holiday music never sounded so good.