Up, up to Pittock Mansion

During the first nine months of 2016, I got into a great routine of doing weekly urban hikes.

Using “Portland Hill Walks” as my guide to assorted explorations in city parks and neighborhoods, I logged 15 of these hikes — each one of them enjoyable and educational. And then I stopped.

I took on two part-time jobs, then three, and found I no longer had time for these Friday morning hikes.

Yesterday, I got back to it. And, boy, did it feel good.

I did a 4.75-mile hike that began in the flats of Northwest Portland, near Wallace Park and Chapman Elementary School, and took me up into the tony Nob Hill and Kings Heights neighborhoods, into Forest Park, up to Pittock Mansion and back down again via a labyrinth of terraced hillside streets laden with BMWs, Jaguars and Range Rovers.

Little did I suspect that I’d find a backdoor entrance to Forest Park and hike for a ways on the Upper Macleay Trail and Wildwood Trail. Little did I suspect I would emerge at the end of this loop into a parking lot leading to the elegant Pittock Mansion and its spectacular view of downtown Portland.

Had I not taken along the book, written by local author Laura O. Foster, and followed its precise directions to take this left and that right, and to follow a handful of easily overlooked staircases, I would still be wandering those hilly neighborhoods.

Friday’s urban hike took me about 2 1/2 hours, much of it on steep sidewalks and forested switchbacks, reaching up to about 930 feet elevation at Pittock Mansion, the former home of Henry Pittock, the legendary publisher of The Oregonian, and his wife, Georgina. Coming down to level ground, my quads got quite the workout.

Here are a few takeaways from the walk:

Weather. Friday brought an unexpected but welcome drizzle. I stayed cooler than I would have otherwise, but the tradeoff was sacrificing a clear view of the Northwest Portland industrial area that included the hulking building that formerly housed Montgomery Ward. On a clear day I would have been able to see Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens and Mount Adams, all in Washington state.

Staircases. I must have taken at least five shortcuts from one residential area to another, following Foster’s explicit directions. I’d probably never notice them on my own, even if I were walking past. But I find them to be little neighborhood jewels, ranging from 24 in one spot to a total of 280 steps on two staircases used for training by Portland firefighters.

Big-ass homes: Undoubtedly, I was traversing through neighborhoods where the city’s doctors, lawyers and business executives make their homes. While the gargantuan Pittock Mansion stands out as a historic home museum, jointly preserved and operated by the city and a nonprofit society, there are plenty of massive homes in Kings Heights. Many are constructed on stilts that I sure wouldn’t trust during an earthquake. Among those not on stilts, I passed by the former homes of Oregon Gov. Oswald West and U.S. Senators Richard and Maurine Neuberger. When he died suddenly in 1960, she ran for his seat and won a six-year term of her own.

Forest Park: Any time spent in this wooded wonderland is always good. I entered the park from a residential street and followed the Upper Macleay Trail to its intersection with the Wildwood Trail. I passed by a man and his dog; a dad with his daughter and their dog; and said hello to a runner as he passed me going uphill. It’s such a nice break from the concrete environment to pad softly on these trails and have your senses filled with fresh air and the sounds of a creek or two.

I hope to do another one or two these walks in August, so I can check off another couple of these on Foster’s list of 20 hill walks.

Yesterday’s hike was not only invigorating but, more importantly, it added to my repository of knowledge about Portland, a place that is abundantly blessed with topographical variety, neighborhood diversity and beautiful vistas.

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Postcards from the UK

Three weeks ago today, I arrived in London to get ready to teach a Media Literacy class for the second summer in a row.

From the moment I landed to the day I left, it was a whirlwind of activity — first on my own, then with my 10 students, then with my wife, Lori. My brain is back in Portland, but my body still thinks I’m in London. (Up at 3 am yesterday, then 2 am today. Yeesh!)

There’s no way to summarize everything, so I’ll share some favorite photos now and plan to follow up with a series of actual blog posts over the next several months.

In the meantime, I’ll savor the memories of a short stay during which I took in the sheer joy of London’s Pride Parade; traveled to Wimbledon, Dover and Bristol; witnessed a parliamentary debate sparked by the sudden resignation of the British ambassador to the United States; and left just 48 hours after bombastic Conservative Party leader Boris Johnson had been elected prime minister to expedite the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union.

Hundreds of thousands of LGBTQ people and their allies marched through the streets of London on Saturday, July 6.
Damp but colorful Cromwell Road on a Sunday morning.
At a pub in Earl’s Court, I watched Megan Rapinoe and the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team win the 2019 World Cup.
There’s a Bob Dylan Room at The Troubadour, where the legendary singer often performed in the early days of his career.
I was among thousands who arrived early at Wimbledon on a Monday morning to join The Queue to see world-class tennis at a deeply discounted price.
Inside St. Stephen’s Hall, which leads to the chambers of the House of Lords and the House of Commons inside Westminster Palace.
Three of my students — Erika, Reem and Bayleigh — checked out the in-studio set at London Live.
The Design Museum had outstanding free exhibits on the form and function of design, plus a featured exhibit of film director Stanley Kubrick’s work as a magazine photographer.
Pastel-colored houses in Notting Hill are a must-see (because you sure can’t afford to buy one).
Visitors enjoy the view of the Strait of Dover at the narrowest point of the English Channel, separating England from continental Europe.
An all-day field trip took us to the BBC’s regional studio in Bristol, west of London.
This iconic ad called The Pregnant Man was the first ever done by the Saatchi & Saatchi advertising agency. It’s also the name of the pub next door.
Royal Albert Hall is a world-class concert venue where The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin, Adele and many, many more have performed.
Portobello Road Market attracts tens of thousands of shoppers from around the globe every weekend.
From the top of Greenwich Park, one can see a former royal palace (white building in foreground) and a view of London across the Thames River.
With Lori in front of the mammoth neon signs at Piccadilly Circus, just before seeing The Book of Mormon. Four stars!
Graffiti left behind by fans on a wall just outside Abbey Road Studios, where John, Paul, George & Ringo recorded almost all their albums.
Pictures don’t do justice to the Sheldonian Theatre at Oxford University. The building was completed 350 years ago and is named after a former chancellor.
The Union Jack flies above the entrance to the historic Randolph Hotel in Oxford.
Had to get an artsy black-and-white shot of the street sign I passed many a time on a pedestrian bridge to West Kensington.

London stories: Oxford

Lasker Rose Garden at the Oxford Botanic Gardens was once the site of the city’s Jewish cemetery. This gorgeous view belies the reality that Jews were expelled from England in 1290 and not allowed to return more than 350 years.

Exactly one month ago on a Saturday morning, I boarded a train at London’s Paddington Station and settled in for the 60-mile trip to Oxford.

It would take little more than an hour to reach the city in south central England, home to the world’s oldest English-language university, dating back to the late 11th century.

In a word, the experience was surreal.

Centuries-old structures are breathtakingly beautiful, both imposing and elegant. Along with university buildings. museums and churches, even pubs and a certain coffeehouse have been here for hundreds of years.

Magnificent architecture is everywhere in Oxford.

As in London itself, I was amazed how the old exists alongside the new. In a city with cobblestone streets, you’ll find wireless electronics stores, souvenir shops, high-end retailers, and a covered shopping mall with 125 stores and rooftop restaurants all sharing the public space.

I’ve been thinking about Oxford lately because I’ll soon be in England again to teach a communications course through Portland State University’s Education Abroad program. The two-week class begins in early July, and this time Lori will join me toward the end of the course so we can enjoy a few days as tourists. Our tentative plans include a visit to Oxford.

Coincidentally, The New York Times recently featured “the ultimate British college town” in its Travel section: “36 Hours in Oxford.” And just last week I watched David Letterman interview Malala Yousafzai, the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize winner, on her life as a student at Oxford. (The interview on Netflix is here.) Seeing Malala, now 21, leading a tour of prospective students brought back pleasant memories of my own visit a year ago.

***

Arriving at mid-morning, I walked through a church graveyard past weathered headstones that had cracked or toppled over. I passed by the Oxford Castle & Prison, a tourist destination, and ventured into the city center, where I ran into groups of teenagers from around the world wearing Oxford University gear. Armed with a simple map and a sense of adventure, I decided against a formal tour and instead wandered the city on my own for hours.

I make no attempt to be comprehensive here in retelling what I did, when or in what order. Suffice to say there was plenty to see and lots to marvel at. A few highlights:

The university. According to the official web site, “There are 38 Oxford colleges, which are financially independent and self-governing, but relate to the central University in a kind of federal system. There are also six permanent private halls, which are similar to colleges except that they tend to be smaller, and were founded by particular Christian denominations. The colleges and halls are close academic communities, which bring together students and researchers from different disciplines, cultures and countries.”

Strolling through the grounds of the colleges was a serene experience. I felt a twinge of envy for the 24,000 Oxford students (divided equally between undergraduates and graduate students) admitted to study in such historic, prestigious surroundings.

The Weston Library. Built in the 1930s and formally opened in 1946 as part of the Bodleian Libraries, the Weston was hosting a special exhibition of J.R.R. Tolkien’s famous works, “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings.” I was out of luck. Free tickets had been snapped up well in advance, so I made do with a souvenir book and checked out Ethiopian and Eritrean art in the lobby.

A moment of solitude. Stepping off the busy streets, I enjoyed a brief respite inside a small church, where I was alone with my thoughts. Here in the silence, I could appreciate the stained-glass windows and pristine interior of St. Michael at the North Gate Church. Even more so, the reverence with which parishioners had put together memorials for Oxford residents killed in the First and Second World Wars. I had a pleasant conversation with the woman who was cashiering in the gift shop and went on my way.

Food and drink. I ordered lunch from a Lebanese food cart and plopped down on the sidewalk with a hefty lamb gyro. Later, I spotted a place advertising itself as the oldest coffeehouse in Europe, established in 1654. Still later, I came upon The Bear Inn, the city’s oldest pub. Can you imagine a place that’s been serving up pints since 1242? Weirdly, that’s 777 years of continuous operation. Thanks to the low ceiling barely a foot from my head, I felt like a 7-footer who’d wandered in from the future.

Soapbox Science. Resuming my wanderings after a surprise thunderstorm, I came upon a small crowd gathered on a sidewalk in front of a young woman in a white lab coat standing on a small platform. Turns out it was a local professor who was participating in “Soapbox Science,” a national initiative to bring science to the masses through a grassroots outreach program. The professor was one of several, all women, who were giving presentations in the public square just outside Westgate Centre, the modern shopping mall I’d just come from. Read more here: London Stories: Soapbox Science.

Such a cool thing to do: Take science education to the streets.

With so much to see, I’m looking forward to coming back to this marvelous city with my wife. Perhaps we’ll take a Harry Potter walking tour. Maybe we’ll float on a canal or visit the 400-year-old Covered Market. Whatever we do, I think a return visit to The Bear is a must.

View of Oxford from the rooftop deck of Westgate Centre shopping mall.

London Stories: An Agatha Christie masterpiece

“You have been summoned for jury service.”

Date/Time: Sun 29 July 2018 15:00 (3 pm)

Location: London County Hall, Central Gallery, Row B, Seat 24

Jury service? Yes — and I went willingly. The occasion? I had bought myself a ticket to see Agatha Christie’s “Witness for the Prosecution” while in London last summer. The play, then 10 months into its run, was being staged in the magnificent London County Hall on the south bank of the River Thames.

July 29 was to be my last full day in London before flying home after teaching a two-week course in the city. I wanted to end on a high note, with a dose of arts and culture. I could not have asked for a better experience.

The setting was grand. The production was fabulous. It was one of those moments when I had to pinch myself and appreciate the circumstances that had brought me here: I was teaching a study-abroad class for the first time and exploring the British capital with six students from the Portland area. And now I was watching live theater in a nearly century-old building.

London County Hall, opened in 1922, sits on the south bank of the River Thames, flanked on one side by the London Eye.

After a farewell dinner on Friday night, my students and I went our separate ways on the final weekend of the program. I wound up here. Not in the West End theater district, but several miles away at the elegant London County Hall, which began construction before the First World War and opened in 1922, The building originally housed the London County Council government offices, but today it is home to two hotels, several restaurants, apartments and tourist attractions.

County Hall is next to the London Eye, a giant Ferris wheel, and across the Thames from Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. Little wonder that this photogenic building in a tourist hot spot attracts so much attention.

Approaching the building from the south side, you enter a spacious foyer and climb a marble staircase which takes you into the theater. My seat was in the second level, perfectly centered and looking down at the stage. I was at the end of a row seated next to a friendly woman my age. Her name was Laura, as I recall, and she had come with her husband and grandchildren. She said they were retired and came in from the suburbs regularly for performances just like this.

The production itself was superb. Agatha Christie was a master storyteller, and this play was adapted from one of her short stories published way back in 1925. When she died in 1979 at age 85, she had written 66 crime novels, 6 non-crime novels, more than 20 plays and upwards of 150 short stories. With more than 2 billion books published, she was outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare.

In “Witness for the Prosecution,” the story centers on themes of justice, passion and betrayal in a courtroom setting. A young man, Leonard Vole, is accused of murdering a widow to inherit her wealth. Leonard is brought to trial and we, the audience, quickly lose ourselves in the gripping drama as he and other witnesses, including his callous wife, are called to testify. At stake is a possible death sentence if he is found guilty.

Even some 10 months after I saw the play, I have fond memories of losing myself in a world-class production featuring British stage actors at the top of their craft. Along with sharp dialogue and crystalline acoustics, there are white-wigged jurists and swift set changes that keep the story moving to its climax — and then to a surprising, alternate ending.

When I came home, I was excited to share the experience with my wife. I rented a DVD of the 1957 film adaptation starring Charles Laughton and Marlene Dietrich and directed by Billy Wilder.

The movie received an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, but watching it six decades later, I had to wonder why. Viewing it on the small screen in black and white, I was put off by the appalling sexism embodied by Laughton’s character. Did I miss all that in London? Or was the dialogue toned down for a modern audience?

In any event, catching this matinee performance was a highlight among highlights during my short stay in London. In just five more weeks, I’ll return to teach the same class, this time with 10 students in tow from Portland State University and Washington State University Vancouver.

Lori will join me toward the tail end of the program, so we can have a few days together to explore the city.

We definitely want to see a play or two. I just may try to talk her into seeing this one. It’s scheduled to continue its run through March 2020. #SeeYouinCourt

Rip City

The 2018-19 NBA season came to a dramatic end this week for the Trail Blazers with one final loss to the indomitable Golden State Warriors.

With this souvenir from Tuesday’s game, I now have enough Blazer T-shirts to wear one every weekday.

Count me among the tens of thousands of Portlanders who enjoyed this joyride of a season and felt only a smidgen of sadness that it ended how it did. On the contrary, this team was fun to watch. They overcame adversity caused by a string of injuries and the death of the team’s owner, and in doing so they brought the city together in a way we haven’t seen for nearly 20 years.

Losing in four straight games to the two-time defending champions was nothing to feel badly about, considering that the Blazers easily could have — and should have — won at least two, if not three, of the games.

Enes Kanter and Maurice Harkless: Two of the good guys.

I think back to a year ago, when I shared in the despair of a four-game sweep by the underdog New Orleans Pelicans, and there’s no comparison.

I saw the Blazers lose Game 2 of that series at home, wondering how the wheels had fallen off. This year, I saw the Blazers win Game 2 of the Oklahoma City series before seeing them fall, valiantly, to Denver in Game 4 and to Golden State in this week’s season-ending overtime loss. (Ain’t no one gonna stop Stephen Curry and Draymond Green from another title.)

Even though the last two games resulted in losses, the competitive fire was there and the entertainment value was sky-high. I nearly went hoarse after the GSW game, but every minute was a blast.

I grew up in the Bay Area going to Giants and A’s games as a young baseball fan, but I’ve got to say there’s something special about an NBA playoff game. The intensity ratchets up and every possession seems to carry extra weight. Little wonder that bodies fly for rebounds or loose balls, that dunks resonate to the upper sections, and the breakneck pace of the game showcases all the finesse, grace, power and creativity of the players. It’s like watching ballet in fast-forward mode.

Larger than life image of CJ McCollum.

Like every other Blazers fan, I look at the team’s two stars, Damian Lilliard and CJ McCollum, as representing the best qualities of today’s modern athletes. They are not just supremely talented on the court, but they are involved in the community, natural leaders in the locker room, and thoughtful and well-spoken in their media interviews. I admire their paths from lesser-known colleges (Weber State and Lehigh) to the pros, and I appreciate that McCollum majored in journalism.

But it’s not just those two. The whole roster seems full of guys I wouldn’t mind having a beer with — or maybe a Gatorade in their case.

I attended seven regular season games this year and the Blazers won them all. Add in the OKC win and they were 8-2 in games I saw. I’m only able to do this because I’ve purchased one-third of one-half of a pair of season tickets through a friend of ours. Sharing the costs this way not only makes it affordable but it gives me reason to look forward to seven games a year — enough to take Lori or my kids or friends to different ones. If I want to attend an occasional extra game or two, I can do that too.

I don’t know if the Blazers will be able to recapture some of this season’s magic next year but I’m grateful for the memories created during this one.

Who could have predicted Meyers Leonard would go from the end of the bench to leading scorer against the Warriors?

We’re living in a time when our attention is divided, our societal cohesiveness is fragmented and our political culture is toxic. I appreciate having an outlet for pure entertainment and a bonding experience with strangers that’s all too rare in everyday life. And if I can sip on a beer while cheering for someone instead of rooting against someone, so much the better.

Come next fall, I’ll be ready for another edition of Rip City.

Unfurling a flag with Portland’s nickname: Rip City all the way.

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.

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.