Dazzling day in Tracktown USA

Former prep athletes George and Eric enjoy the action at Historic Hayward Field.

So there we were, sitting side by side in the West Grandstand at Historic Hayward Field on the University of Oregon campus.

On my left, Eric Wilcox, a former school record holder in the javelin at The Dalles High School in Oregon. And myself, a former All-League cross country runner at Washington High School in northern California.

We’d come down from Portland for the afternoon to take in Day One of the NCAA Track & Field Championships, a four-day competition featuring the most accomplished athletes in Division I.

Eric is an architect and works for a Portland firm that is working with the university on a massive project to turn Hayward Field into a world-class track and field stadium by 2020. Check out the project here.

Eric snagged the tickets, which put us in a prime viewing spot for the 12 running events held on the first day of the meet. Except for the finals of the 10,000 meter run, all of the events were preliminaries, so we saw multiple heats of each event stretching out from about 4:30 pm to 10 pm.

We also saw preliminary and final competitions for each of the five field events, including Eric’s specialty. All the events featured men. Tonight’s preliminaries feature the women. Finals will be held Friday and Saturday and the size  of the crowd will grow quite a bit for those two days.

To say I was excited for this event is a huge understatement. Aside from attending the first two games of the 1990 World Series between the Oakland A’s and San Francisco Giants (yes, the one disrupted by the earthquake), this was the most prestigious athletic competition I’d ever attended.

And because it involved student-athletes rather than veteran professionals in a sport I’d actually competed in myself, it was all the more satisfying.

 

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Quick aside: On the drive down, Eric told me he broke the school record in the javelin as a senior, only to have the very next competitor at the same meet throw the stick even farther. Turns out he held the school record for about five minutes!

As for me, I’d run a 4:38 mile as a junior (a decent time, but not good enough to land me on the varsity) but discovered I did even better at longer distance. As a senior at the league championship meet, I covered the 3-mile cross country course in 15:22, averaging 5:07 per mile, and finished ninth. The top 10 finishers were deemed All-League and our school won the league title.

***

We arrived in Tracktown USA (aka Eugene, Oregon) on a spectacular Wednesday afternoon — warm, dry, blue skies and a faint breeze — and walked into a scene that took me back to the days of regional high school competitions and weekend invitationals.

Only this time I was mingling with college athletes, coaches, family members and other supporters from across the United States. Wherever we went — whether to find our seats, grab a snack or just stroll the grounds — we found ourselves in a sea of Cougars, Trojans, Badgers, Spartans, Hawkeyes, Aggies and more.

T-shirts, baseball caps, backpacks, school flags and other logo-branded items made clear the diversity of institutions: Nebraska, Houston, Cornell, Columbia, Grand Canyon University, BYU, Stanford, Baylor, Coppin State, etc.

The competition itself was amazing — in fact, inspiring. We had great seats near the finish line with a clear view of what Eric described as a three-ring circus: a running event taking place in front of us at the same time that athletes were scattered across the field — long jumpers on near side, pole vaulters on the far side, and shot-putters and javelin thrower in between.

I’ll save some of the details for the photo captions, but let me just say the two biggest highlights were these:

  • Watching Ben Flanagan, a University of Michigan senior, sprint like hell on the last straightaway to catch and pass a Kenyan-born Alabama runner in the 10,000 meter run.
  • Seeing the sheer delight of Denzel Comententia, a University of Georgia junior, after he’d accomplished a rarity — winning two weights events (not just one) in the hammer throw and shot put. The big man bounded joyfully across the field as if he were a Little League player who’d just hit a winning home run.

 

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The dedication and skill of these athletes is something to behold. Whether sprinting, hurdling, running a relay race or competing in the jumps or weights, each of them has found time to be a genuine scholar-athlete on their campus. How rewarding to come to the Northwest and test themselves against their peers, many of whom no doubt will be future Olympians.

I would love to come back to attend the Finals come day. Or maybe the Olympic Trials. Or maybe an international event, once that new stadium is built in 2020.

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James Taylor in Portland

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James Taylor delighted fans by playing more than two dozen songs during a two-hour show in Portland on June 5.

For my generation, there is perhaps no singer-songwriter with a more recognizable voice and style of guitar playing than James Taylor.

From the time he released his self-titled debut album in 1968 to the present, Taylor has cranked out an amazing body of work, including 17 studio albums, 6 compilation albums and 5 live albums. In the early ’70s, his music was like a soundtrack to my life with four stellar albums released during my college years alone.

JT turned 70 earlier this year and he’s still touring. Lucky for me.

I was among the thousands who filled the Moda Center Tuesday night for a two-hour show by Taylor and his All-Star Band. Believe me, it was great. His voice still sounds smooth after all these years, and he hasn’t lost a thing in producing beautiful melodies from his acoustic guitar.

With a songbook full of hits spanning six decades, Taylor had no shortage of material — and he chose wisely.

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Sprinkled among his greatest hits, James Taylor provided little surprises, like his version of  Wilson Pickett’s “In The Midnight Hour.”

He opened the concert with “Carolina On My Mind” (one of my favorites) and “Country Road” and then weaved all over, selecting lesser-known songs of his own about a dog and a pig (“Sunny Skies” and “Mona”) and familiar covers of songs made popular in the ’50s and ’60s (“(I’m A) Road Runner,” “Up On The Roof,” “How Sweet It Is,” “Handy Man”).

The set list, consisting of about 26 songs, included ballads like “Don’t Let Me Lonely Tonight” and a version of the bluesy “Nothing Like a Hundred Miles,” a collaboration by Ray Charles and B.B. King.

Taylor closed his first set with the upbeat “Mexico,” then spent the entire 20-minute intermission just off the stage, signing autographs and posing for selfies with fans. I got the feeling that he really does appreciate his fans, and that he’s probably a pretty chill dude when he’s not on the road.

JT began the second set with “Something In The Way She Moves” (such a lovely song) and went on to perform his biggest hits. “Sweet Baby James” (written for his brother’s newborn son) and “Fire and Rain” came back to back. “Shower The People” (another of my favorites) blew me away, with the fabulous background vocalist Arnold McCuller stepping up to own the last stanza (“Shower the people you love with love, show them the way that you feel.”).

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James Taylor and His All-Star Band perform “Shower The People.”

His three-song encore was amazing: “Shed A Little Light” (with its inspiring reference to Martin Luther King), a cover of Wilson Pickett’s “In The Midnight Hour” and, what else, Carole King’s “You’ve Got A Friend.”

***

A handful of odds ‘n’ ends:

— This was the second time I’d seen James Taylor, but it sure seemed like the first because I have no recollection of the earlier one.

In the days leading up to this concert, Lori insisted that we’d seen Taylor way back in the days before we became parents. We’d seen him at the Oregon State Fairgrounds when we lived in Salem, she said,  adding that we even went with our longtime friends, Tom and Elsa Guiney. I couldn’t believe I wouldn’t remember seeing JT live, but last weekend Tom confirmed that it was true. So, yeah, I was wrong — and I still can’t explain the memory lapse.

— Tuesday’s concert originally was going to feature Bonnie Raitt, too, but she canceled plans to tour with Taylor because of an unspecified health issue. Early into the first set, Taylor asked the audience to stand for a “get well” photo that he promised would be texted to her. Would have loved to see Bonnie again.

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A view looking out toward the Moda Center crowd, with a photo (at left) of James Taylor with Bonnie Raitt.

— En route to the concert, I was struck by the sight of so many older people on the city sidewalks — graying, bald and many moving slowly — all headed in the same direction.  Looked like they were headed to an AARP convention. That’s when I realized I was looking at my generational peers and fellow JT fans. Yikes.

— Considering his catalog of material, it would have been easy for Taylor to just come out and play his hits with no variation from the original arrangements. But he kept things fresh and interesting by fully involving his 7-piece band — including saxophone, trumpet and congas — and 3 backup singers. I would think doing that is essential if you’re going to deliver night after night, year after year, in city after city. The current tour began May 8 in Florida and continues tonight in Seattle.

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A colorful background for the song “Mexico.”

— Like so many shows these days, this one featured multimedia images from beginning to end, with an array of video clips, photos, changing colors, snippets of lyrics and more complementing the music. I found it distracting at times, but I did appreciate JT’s recorded voice at the start of the show proclaiming, “I don’t animate a character. I don’t present a version of myself. I present myself.”

That he did.

RBG: A woman to celebrate

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I wasn’t expecting much when I settled into my seat yesterday to see “RBG.”

Sure, I’d heard of this movie about Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the second woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court and, lately, an internet phenomenon. I knew the film took a look at the life and work of a brilliant legal scholar. What I didn’t realize is how deftly the filmmakers would tie together so much rich material — from archival footage, Congressional testimony, news stories, TV clips, internet memes and interviews — to present a compelling portrait of a woman who has arguably done as much for women’s rights as the late Thurgood Marshall did for civil rights for black Americans.

In a word, Ruth Bager Ginsburg is a powerhouse.

Quiet by nature and tiny in stature, she has been tireless and fearless in using the law to champion the cause of equal opportunity for women. The film touches on a handful of cases she successfully argued before the nation’s highest court to help extend equity to females in the workplace.

While those accomplishments are extraordinary, it’s the personal side of the now 85-year-old justice that makes this movie so endearing. Through interviews with her late husband Marty, their daughter and son, and a host of other friends and professional colleagues, we get a picture of a shy but determined woman who overcame sex discrimination herself in pursuing a legal career when women were actively discouraged from doing so.

***

We admire Ginsburg’s resolve and focus as a young mother and wife in law school, caring for her cancer-stricken husband (who is also a law student), raising their newborn daughter, and somehow still finding time to keep up her own studies.

We come to realize that resolve and focus are lifelong attributes, that she personifies an only-in-America success story as a Brooklyn-born  daughter of immigrants who was educated at Cornell, Columbia and Harvard and taught at Rutgers and Columbia law schools on her way to being named to the federal bench.

(It was President Bill Clinton who named her to the Supreme Court in 1993, making her the second-longest serving justice on the current court.)

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 At 85, Justice Ginsburg has  become an intergenerational heroine and pop culture icon.

But more than a sterling legal career, we see different sides of Ginsburg: an opera lover who is witty and warm; able to become good friends with fellow Justice Antonin Scalia, an arch-conservative who was her opposite in temperament and personality; able to shrug off falling asleep at a State of the Union address; and able to laugh at a parody of her on Saturday Night Live.

***

Lori and I recently saw “Marshall,” a biographical film about Thurgood Marshall, the first African American to serve on the Supreme Court. While it was entertaining and educational and Chadwick Boseman was solid in his portrayal of Marshall, “RBG” has the added plus of presenting the real, live Ginsburg in her own words.

She, like Marshall before her, is a national treasure. Go see this film and you’ll come away with profound respect for a woman who’s left a towering legacy that benefits our daughters and our granddaughters.

Lessons from Watsonville

Photo by Russell J Young

Milagro Theatre’s production is based on a cannery strike in a California farming community. (Photograph: Russell J. Young)

When you love watching movies as much as we do, it’s easy to keep doing the same thing. Thankfully, we broke out of our routine and went to see a play on Sunday afternoon at Milagro Theatre in Southeast Portland.

Good decision.

Lori and I saw “Watsonville: Some Place Not Here” — a play written in 1996 about a cannery workers strike in Watsonville, California, from 1985 to 1987 — and came away vowing to do more of the same. I love the intimate space, where you can find an actor literally right next to you in the aisle, and I enjoy supporting Milagro (Miracle), which after nearly 35 years bills itself as the Northwest’s premier Latino arts and culture organization.

This particular play appealed to me because it was based on real events in Watsonville, a small agricultural town of 25,000, southeast of Santa Cruz, and featured Mexican and Mexican-American laborers. As teenagers, both of my parents worked in the area, picking crops with their farmworker families.

Though my folks didn’t work in the Watsonville canneries, I’m sure they could relate to the struggles of those who went on strike on Sept 9, 1985, to protest cuts in wages and benefits — and stayed out for 18 months, despite tremendous financial hardships.

What could I take away from a play steeped in the Mexican culture and based on real events 30 years earlier? Plenty, it turns out.

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A scene from “Watsonville: Some Place Not Here” (Photograph: Russell J. Young)

From an artistic perspective, there’s lots to appreciate.

— The play, written by the feminist writer Cherrie Moraga, an artist in residence at Stanford University, weaves together economic, political, social, cultural and religious themes while interspersing more than a little Spanish into the mostly English-language script.

— The ensemble of nine actors demonstrate great versatility,  ranging across emotional terrain including anger, humor, courage, cowardice and, above all, passion for a just cause. Particularly poignant was the role of Juan, played by Osvaldo “Ozzie” Gonzalez. Juan is an ex-priest whose doubts about God led him to break from the Catholic Church, but who nevertheless is looked to by many of the others for spiritual and moral leadership.

— The creative set design is also pretty remarkable. With just a few rolling tables and chairs and an upright piece whose two sides doubled as a refrigerator and a workers’ time clock, the cast was able to create different scenes and moods in a matter of seconds.

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A non-union worker uses a club to lash out at strikers in November 1985. (Dan Coyro — Santa Cruz Sentinel file photograph)

From a historical perspective, there’s much that resonates.

— A majority of the 1,500 striking workers were women, and about one-third were single mothers whose children depended on their income to survive. Many of the workers were undocumented, as well, which put them at great legal risk. (In the play, a character playing the role of a union representative tips off federal authorities to conduct a raid, reasoning that any deportations will result in a reduced labor force and persuade employers to settle the strike. What an ass.)

— In Watsonville, one out of every seven people was a striker or a dependent of one, according to social service agencies. During the strike, most workers lived on $50 a week from labor groups and many were evicted or lost their homes. Some sent their children to live with relatives. Sales dropped in many of the city’s businesses and more than 150 people were arrested as violence flared, according to news reports.

— Workers walked off the job when their employers — the two largest frozen food companies in the United States — threatened to lower their base pay from $6.66 an hour to $4.75 an hour. About 18 months later, the companies agreed to $5.85 an hour plus benefits.

Read the Los Angeles Times’ account of the dispute, a year into the strike

Read the Santa Cruz Sentine’s account of a 30th anniversary meeting after the strike

The play’s director, Elizabeth Huffman, marveled at the strikers’ resilience in the face of poverty and racial discrimination: “The workers mounted an extraordinary resistance knowing that it would create an economic hardship that few of us could endure today…but they did it because they had to.”

“This story,” she adds, “is unfortunately timely as our country remains shockingly divided on these very same issues over 20 years later.”

I can’t imagine surviving the stresses on finances, family and faith that these brave workers had to face. Organized labor has had few successes to point to in the 30-plus years since these cannery workers stood up for themselves.

At the same time, I can’t help but feel a measure of ethnic pride is knowing that these Chicanas and Chicanos stood up for themselves and ultimately won back much of what their employers had taken away.

This is the final weekend to catch the “Watsonville” play. For more information and tickets to the Friday or Saturday night performances, click here.

 

Orcas photo album

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A dockside view of Eagle Lake.

Even when it rains five out of seven days, there’s no place I’d rather be than in our cozy log cabin, enjoying the warmth of a wood-stove fire and the tranquility of a remote location on Orcas Island.

Lori and I came home yesterday from a week on the island, where we enjoyed down time with our little dog, Charlotte. The premises were in good shape, so we spent more time relaxing and less time working than we would have otherwise.

We buried ourselves in books and magazines, played Scrabble and plowed through the six-part Netflix series “Wild Wild Country” on the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and his followers. Lori did some knitting and we walked the Lake Trail around Eagle Lake on the one-year anniversary of my father’s death.

We took Charlotte on short nature walks above our home, had a home-cooked meal with longtime friends Carl and Juliana, tried a new restaurant for lunch in Eastsound, and capped off the week with dinner at the nearby Doe Bay Cafe.

When Saturday morning arrived, the sun came out and we had a leisurely drive back to Portland. Heading into a new month and a new week, it’s safe to say we’re both feeling refreshed and eternally thankful to have this island getaway to relax and recharge.

As always, here are a few (OK, more than a few) images to seal this trip in memory:

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Home: a welcome sight after a nature hike.

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The driveway down to the main road.

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Looking northward from the back of the cabin.

 

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Sunrise on Orcas Island, with Mount Baker (middle right) in the distance.

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The essence of serenity: Eagle Lake.

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Who doesn’t enjoy being the only ones on the trail during a weekday morning?

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Charlotte, our trusty guide, sizes up an obstacle.

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Words don’t do justice.

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A splash of color, thanks to skunk cabbage.

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Treetops reflected on the glass-like surface of the water.

 

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We had lunch at Wild Island Juice Bagels and Bowls, a new addition to the Eastsound restaurant scene.

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How’s this for a restaurant facade?

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Looking toward the village of Eastsound from our outdoor stools on the porch.

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Tasty: The Wild Island Bowl (left) and chicken pho with veggies.

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Peregrine Road, a favorite hiking destination, has a new sign.

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Puddles on the path of our walk.

 

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So long, Orcas Landing.

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View from the interior of the MV Yakima heading back to Anacortes, Washington.

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Circles and rectangles make for some cool photo aesthetics.

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A passing ferry on the Salish Sea, headed for Orcas Island.

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Aboard the MW Yakima, capable of holding 2,500 passengers and 160 vehicles.

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Looking over the stern of the MV Yakima, a super-class ferry operated by the Washington State Ferries system.

Moments with meaning

A recent email exchange with a fellow blogger about “being present” prompted me to dive into the Rough and Rede archives. This is what I found: an August 2009 blog post.

http://roughandrede.blogspot.com/2009/08/moment-in-time.html?q=blogosphere

No words. Just images and sounds to convey the ordinariness of human life — and its beauty.

When you watch the video, please know the first 25 seconds are intended to be that way. Your patience will be rewarded.

 

4 films worth viewing

As one year ended and another one started, Lori and I found ourselves with enough free time to watch a few movies, both at home and at the theater.

No lengthy reviews here. Just a quick thumbs up for each of these four:

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Florence Foster Jenkins. Took a stab at this on Netflix, based solely on the fact of knowing that Meryl Streep had been nominated as Best Actress — her record 20th Oscar nomination — for her role in this 2016 film.

The unlikely premise: Jenkins is a wealthy New Yorker and patron of the arts who longs to become an opera singer despite an obvious issue: She has a terrible singing voice. Yet she’s encouraged by her voice coach and her husband, skillfully played by Hugh Grant. Meryl is marvelous in this based-on-a-true-story tale, making you want to root for her despite her dreadful voice.

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The Big Sick. A charming story, released last year and also based on real life, that centers on the cultural clashes that ensue when a Pakistan-born comic (Kumail Najiani, playing himself) falls in love with an American graduate student (Zoe Kazan) named Emily.

Kumail’s parents are committed to the tradition of an arranged marriage — humorously so, given the parade of Pakistani women who “just happen to be in the neighborhood” when the family is sitting down to dinner. But when Emily falls seriously ill, Kumail not only has to meet (and win over) her parents at the hospital, he also has to confront his folks about his feelings for the girlfriend they don’t know about. (Thank you for the recommendation, Elaina Anders.)

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Loving Vincent. This movie, also released in 2017, is both gorgeous and intriguing. This is a story that’s told in exquisite oil-painted animation — the work of more than 100 professional artists — and a plot that revolves around the mysterious death of the famous painter Vincent van Gogh.

A young man is entrusted with hand-delivering the artist’s final letter to his brother, Theo, in the French village where van Gogh last resided. What the young man perceives as an annoying task becomes a fascinating opportunity to learn more about van Gogh from the many townspeople who knew Vincent and in some cases modeled for him and inspired his art. The visuals are lush and the story raises more questions than it answers. Be sure to see it on the big screen, as we did. (Thank you for the recommendation, Patricia Conover.)

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He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not. Imagine sweet-faced Audrey Tautou in the role of a young art student who’s in love with a married cardiologist — or at least thinks she is. Is the relationship real and reciprocal?  Or wishful thinking? Why won’t the handsome doctor leave his wife for her? How does he explain the various gifts that come to his office, with no notes, and the messages left on his phone? Should his wife believe his claims that there isn’t another woman?

This is a 2002 French film that struck us as sneaky good, one that became more intriguing and more complex the deeper we got into the plot, with its many twists and turns.  Pretty cool storytelling device to have the same set of events told through the student’s eyes and the doctor’s eyes. Tautou, best known for playing the title character in Amélie, is captivating in this film as Angélique. (Thank you, Netflix.)

 

Autumn memories

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A good way to start a weekend visit? With a hot drink at happy hour. From left, Lin, George, Lori and Terry.

Seems it wasn’t that long ago that summer turned to fall. Mornings got cooler. Trees went from leafy to naked. And another academic term began at Portland State.

And now what?

Halloween, Thanksgiving and the World Series all have come and gone. Today kicks off the last week of classes at PSU. And the winter equinox is less than a month away.

Before another day slips by, it’s time to pause and reflect on a few highlights of recent weeks.

Catholic school girls: Early in the month, two of Lori’s closest friends came up from San Francisco to spend a three-day weekend with us. Terry (Long) Mullaney is Lori’s BFF.  They grew up across the street from each other in the City by the Bay, and Terry still lives in her childhood home with her husband Mike.

Lori and Terry attended Catholic schools from first grade through 12th, and it was at the all-girls Mercy High School that they met Linda Dillon and became fast friends. After graduation, the trio took different paths to college and the world of work, but have stayed in close contact through the decades.

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We tried to make the most of their time here, showing them a couple of neighborhoods to get a feel for Northeast Portland. We also rode the Portland Streetcar to and from the South Waterfront district for lunch and a trip on the tram to Oregon Health & Science University. We popped in at Powell’s Books, went to dinner at Aviary and had some great home-cooked meals as well.

It’s always fun to get the female perspective from hanging out with three longtime friends.

Rip City: November means the start of the NBA season and, in Portland, there’s no better ticket in town than the Blazers. Lori and I got to see only one game together last year, so I’m making amends this season, hoping to attend at least three more with her.

We saw the Blazers take down the Phoenix Suns on Oct. 28, the first Saturday of the season. After seeing them lose all six games I attended last year, it was good to see the team get off to a winning start this season.

Happy hour: Teaching has gone well this fall at PSU, and I’ve added a new responsibility as internship coordinator for the Department of Communication. But I’ve also enjoyed being part of the crew at my other job at the nonprofit Portland Workforce Alliance.

Our executive director is out on temporary medical leave, so the other four of us have been working extra hard to keep things going in his absence. We bring together local high school students, leading employers and community volunteers, helping to facilitate career days, classroom speakers, mock interviews, essay writing workshops and other activities that help teens prepare for college and career.

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The Dream Team at Portland Workforce Alliance includes, clockwise from left, Susan Nielsen, myself, Sherri Nee and Kristen Kohashi.

Last week, my co-workers and I got together after work during a happy hour that was therapeutic for all of us. Our schedules often don’t mesh, so it was nice to finally get some down time together. I’m very fortunate to work with such smart, likable people.

Giving thanks: Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday simply because it is the most meaningful in terms of appreciating your loved ones and the least driven by commercial hype.

This year, Nathan was the only one of our kids available to join us. His girlfriend, now fiancee, Sara hung out with her parents. Simone and Kyndall were on vacation in a place with a tropical climate. And, of course, Jordan, Jamie and baby Emalyn were 2,000 miles away in Missouri.

We had a relaxing evening with our oldest child, and an obscenely delicious meal built around a roasted turkey prepared by Lori.

The next day, we invited Chris, a new friend from the neighborhood, and her dog Oliver to join us for leftovers. Chris is a warm and generous soul. Ollie, her trusty Jack Russell Terrier, is Charlotte’s best friend. The two romp together and walk together, and on this night wound up relaxing next to each other on Charlotte’s bed in front of the fireplace.

Four-star movie: This post began with Catholic school girls and it’s ending with another Catholic school girl. Lori and I saw a Sunday matinee showing of “Lady Bird,” one of those independent films with an engaging coming-of-age story and a quirky but lovable lead character.

Saoirse Ronan, who turned in an Oscar-nominated performance in “Brooklyn,” stars as Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, a restless 17-year-old who can’t wait to be done with her senior year of high school and move to New York for college. Lady Bird (a name she gave herself) is bored with her hometown of Sacramento, California, and oh-so-done with the rules and restrictions at her all-girls Catholic school. She’s also got a rocky relationship with her hard-working disciplinarian mom, played wonderfully by Laurie Metcalf.

The problem for Lady Bird is that her grades are mediocre and she’s just gotten suspended for mouthing off at school. Plus, she’s trying to navigate friendships and loyalties, romance and sex, and figure out who she is herself as someone who’s grown up poor and aspires to something more, whatever and wherever that may be.

It’s a refreshing film that lets you see the world through the eyes of a smart and still-evolving teenage girl. As writer and director, Greta Gerwig has come up with an entertaining story, believable characters and authentic dialogue. As the film’s namesake, Saoirse Ronan is sweet and funny, vulnerable and unsettled. I won’t be surprised if she, Metcalf, Gerwig and the film itself are nominated for Oscars next year.

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Leaf pick-up day finally arrived last week, just as several piles in our neighborhood swelled to the size of a mid-sized car.

The perfect guest

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Friends for a half-century: George and Al at the Moda Center after a Blazers win.

What do you say about a house guest who makes his bed, prepares dinner, washes the dishes. and walks your dog?

If you’re me, you say, “It’s just what I expected coming from Al.”

Al Rodriguez is my best friend, mi compadre. Has been since freshman year of high school. We met as grade school kids when our dads took us to a San Francisco Giants baseball game at Candlestick Park. (Actually, it might have been when we were in junior high — there’s some dispute about that. But there’s no disputing the friendship that’s stretched out across five decades.)

We ran track and cross country together in high school. Talked about girls and relationships over countless cups of coffee and late-night meals in suburban Fremont. Became roommates during our junior year at San Jose State after he transferred there from the private college he’d been attending in South Dakota.

Two years later, he was the best man at our wedding. All three of us were just 22.

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Sept. 6, 1975: Lori and George with matron of honor Linda Hansen, best man Al Rodriguez and groom Michael Granberry.

In the years following graduation, Lori and I headed north to Oregon, where we’ve planted our roots and raised our family. Al remained in California, working in the public and nonprofit sectors, and for nearly 20 years has made his home in Santa Barbara, where he lives with his wife, Elizabeth. They are extraordinarily close to their only child, Nicole.

We sometimes went years between visits. We’d often rendezvous in Los Angeles when I was attending a job fair on behalf of my former employer. But lately we’ve been able to see each other at least once a year, and that’s been due in no small part to his willingness to come up to Portland for the annual Voices of August meetup.

***

That was the reason for his most recent stay. He arrived on a Friday, left on a Wednesday. In between, the three of us got to catch up in depth. And I got to spend some Bro Time with him on consecutive nights before he left for the airport.

Sunday: After Saturday’s small-but-stellar meetup of VOA contributors, we chilled the following day. Took an extended walk in our neighborhood, enjoying the fall colors and giving our excitable dog, Charlotte, some time to walk off a little energy. Came home and turned the kitchen over to Al, who prepared two trays of chicken enchiladas.

Monday: While Lori and I worked in the morning, Al hopped on a TriMet bus to a public swimming pool in North Portland. Took him to lunch downtown so he (er, we) could indulge in the food carts. Picked one that was selling Middle Eastern food — Kafta House! scrumptious! — and chatted with the Syrian owners for a bit.

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In the evening, Al and I enjoyed a Pop-Up Magazine presentation at Revolution Hall. I’d attended one the year before so I knew what to expect: an evening of live entertainment featuring writers, animation, video, music, dancing and a karaoke piece that had the whole auditorium singing along to the Journey classic “Don’t Stop Believin’.”

Tuesday:  Again, we had to work in the morning. This time Al borrowed my bike and rode south along the Eastside Esplanade and the Willamette Greenway down to the Sellwood Bridge. All three of us took an afternoon walk in the Alberta Arts District, from the Tiny Houses Hotel to Bernie’s Southern Kitchen and back. Stopped for a happy hour beverage and toasted our friendship.

After a multiethnic dinner of Al’s leftover enchiladas and Lori’s luscious lasagna, Al and I went to the Trail Blazers’ home opener against New Orleans. Traffic was really heavy, which caused us to miss the ear-splitting introductions and other hoopla. But we found our seats a couple minutes in and enjoyed the outcome: a Portland win.

Wednesday: We said our goodbyes in the morning and left Al to enjoy breakfast on his own, followed by an Uber ride to the airport.

Friendships can be hard to maintain in this era of texting and increasingly rare phone calls. In this case, I’m grateful for the enduring bond that took root in the mid-’60s, long before Al and I met our wives.

Simply put, Al (or Al Rod, as he was known in high school) is a rock. Someone I can talk to candidly — and listen to attentively — because we know each other so well. He calls me out when I deserve it. He needles me because he can. And he makes me feel valued because he listens carefully and responds thoughtfully and constructively.

Proud to have known this man for as long as I have and to call him my best friend. Mi compadre.

Heck, even Charlotte likes him.

Cannon Beach

charlotte sandy

When sand gets on your snout, it’s the sign of a good time. Little Charlotte.

Can it be just a few days ago that Lori and I were walking on the beach in sunny weather suitable for shorts and sandals?

With all the rain forecast today and tomorrow, and coming on top of yesterday’s downpour, it hardly seems true. But it was — and a nice respite it was for two days and two nights in Cannon Beach.

In the early years of our marriage, we used to visit Cannon Beach more than any other community on the Oregon Coast. Now, I’m hard-pressed to remember the last time we were here, given that we’ve been drawn to Manzanita, Rockaway Beach and Pacific City as our favorite getcaways.

cannon beach

Quiet, unpaved streets made for relaxing walks during our short stay.

Over the decades, Cannon Beach has transformed from charming little town to a mini-Lake Oswego, with boutique shops and a burgeoning restaurant scene catering to visitors from Portland and far beyond. The local grocery store, Mariner Market, and Bruce’s Candy Kitchen, everyone’s go-to for salt water taffy, are still there. But they’ve been joined by a whole lot of bistros, brewpubs, coffee shops and retailers, and the city several years ago added public parking lots to accommodate tourist vehicles that wouldn’t possibly find space along Hemlock Street, the town’s main artery.

So, while the city has retained some of its charm, it’s also embraced commercial development on a scale that other coastal towns haven’t.

***

A few odds ‘n’ ends from our 48 hours in Cannon Beach:

ferris buellerDown time. We stayed in a friend’s one-bedroom cottage about a quarter-mile south of the main shopping area, just right for the two of us and our dog Charlotte. Aside from walks on the quiet neighborhood streets and on the beach, we spent time reading, knitting (well, one of us did), and indulging in some old movies on cable TV, and watching some of the Oregon-WSU football game.

“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” remains as funny as when it was released in 1986. (Yikes! 31 years ago??) The movie’s motto — “One man’s struggle to take it easy” — fit in perfectly with our low-key weekend.

Shopping. We dropped in on our friend, Lisa, who co-owns Vintage Viaje, a shop specializing in vintage items and imported goods. Lots of cool collectibles, used clothing and handmade goods. We each found something to buy.

We also went to the nearby Jupiter’s Books, a funky old spot specializing in rare and used books. Great to see an independent bookstore off the beaten path that marches to its own beat. Again, we found something for each of us.

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Eating well. We opted for simple meals we prepared ourselves. Scallops for dinner, grilled cod and smoked sardines for lunch (Lori’s influence right there). Our one meal out? Cannon Beach Hardware & Public House, also known as Screw and Brew.

Imagine yourself at a corner table with rows of screwdrivers, drill bits and other items on the walls behind you as you dive into a basket of fish-and-chips or a tossed salad with grilled halibut, washed down with a draft beer or glass of wine.

Our waiter, a friendly fellow named Mason, told us that dual-purpose businesses under the same roof are actually pretty common in Ireland. A brewpub and a hardware store? A brewpub and a grocery store? A brewpub and bookstore? You’ll find all those and more combinations in Ireland, he told us. Works for me.

The beach. One thing I love about Oregon is that every mile of beach is publicly owned. That’s 363 miles, stretching from the mouth of the Columbia River to the California state border. And there’s no more iconic landmark than Haystack Rock, rising 235 feet in the ocean surf.

I’ve run into plenty of native Oregonians who love walking on the beach into the face of a pelting rain — and I get that. But there’s also something magical about strolling along the water’s edge when the sun is shining on your shoulders. It’s even more fun when your urban dog gets to run off-leash in the wide-open spaces. Charlotte had a great time and so did we, just watching her.

george-charlotte

Looks like Charlotte lost an ear, but it’s just blown back by the wind.

We were overdue for a quick getaway like this one. Hope to do it again soon, maybe after the first of the year.

Postscript: After this published, I noticed this was Blog Post No. 600 on Rough and Rede II. Not too shabby. (GR)