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.

 

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Back to the beach

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Lori, George and our feisty Charlotte.

The Oregon Coast is a wonderful place to visit, no matter the time of year. When you can enjoy it in the company of long-time friends, the experience is all the sweeter.

Last weekend, Lori and I broke away for a couple of nights to spend with four folks we’ve known for four decades. (Hmmm, that doesn’t make us old, does it? Nah! Just well-acquainted.)

I’m talking about Tom and Elsa Guiney and Brian and Gayle McCay. All six of us attended San Jose State University. The three ladies were roommates, and all five were friends before I came onto the scene as a college senior.

Tom and Elsa split their time between Portland and their beach house south of Tillamook. The McCays live in suburban Boston and carved out time to spend with us during a days-long visit that included stops in Washington and Oregon. All three couples have been married 40-plus years.

Lori and I hadn’t been to the beach since July, so it was nice to get out of the metro area. Just driving to the coast with the fall leaves turning yellow and red, and passing through a string of small towns along Highway 101, puts me in a good frame of mind.

Once we arrived, it was nothing but R&R.

We took a short hike in the neighborhood one afternoon and a couple longer walks on the beach the next two mornings, with our dogs romping alongside. We mostly hung out at the Guineys’ place, watched two World Series games (Brian and Gayle are big Red Sox fans), played a board game, and ate well, thanks to Lori’s homemade lasagna.

We split up on Saturday, with the ladies doing some shopping and us guys shooting some pool, and shared a lovely dinner in Pacific City that evening.

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Sunday morning came too soon. It’s always fun to be around friends who know you well and whose generosity comes from a deep place.

Can’t wait for our next beach trip.

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Charlotte at the edge of the continent.

 

A trio of terriers and one red dog

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It’s treat time at the dog park and these three are ready to snack. From left: Penny, Charlotte and Coco.

They are three lovable rascals named Coco, Penny and Charlotte. All three are a terrier mix of some kind. All three are female. All three are rescue dogs. And along with their buddy, a handsome male Shiba Inu named Yukai, they are the reason why Lori and I met up with their owners for a potluck in the park on Sunday evening.

More precisely, we were at the elementary school in our Northeast Portland neighborhood where our four dogs formed a canine friendship that has transferred over to us humans. We come from the South, the Midwest, the West Coast and Western Europe. We represent three generations. We are two married couples and two single people.

Yes, we are all dog people. But we wouldn’t have become friends so quickly — or maybe  even at all — were it not for our “girls” and Yukai.

***

There’s a small athletic field where the three terriers have been romping around on the emerald-green grass for the past six months or so, rolling and tumbling and chasing each other as if they had known each other all their lives. Yukai, meanwhile, stays on his long leash, acting as something of a sergeant-at-arms should any visiting dog get too rowdy.

Seeing them play never fails to bring a smile. No matter what kind of day we’ve had, we know we can take pleasure in seeing these creatures greet each other and tear across the field. Makes any personal stresses melt away.

What’s remarkable is how they’ve spurred a friendship among six people who could not be more different as individuals.

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Dog people, from left: Arturo and Lindsey with Penny; George R., Laura, Lori with Charlotte, and George W.

There’s George W., owner of Coco. He’s a mid-40s public engagement specialist for a regional government agency, Raised in Arkansas and educated at Harvard, George is gregarious, well-traveled and an “11” on a friendliness scale of 1-to-10.

There’s Lindsey and Arturo, owners of Penny. They are a married couple in their early 30s. Lindsey is from Orange County, California, and works for a vacation rentals company, often taking Penny to work with her. Arturo works for Nike and comes from Barcelona, Spain, where he and Lindsey met when she was a study-abroad student. The two complement each other well with their warm personalities.

There’s Lori and I, owners of Charlotte. We grew up in San Francisco and its suburbs, respectively.

And there’s Laura, about the same age as Lori and me, who is the owner of 11-year-old Yukai. She’s originally from Minnesota and also works for Nike as a consultant. Laura is direct, assertive and witty. She walks the neighborhood streets with her red dog and two cats. It’s quite the sight, with the two felines trailing behind and occasionally taking cover behind a bush or plant.

George adopted Coco last November. Lindsey and Arturo adopted Penny in January. We’ve had Charlotte for four years and Laura has had Yukai for twice as long.

***

The reason for the potluck?

Lindsey and Arturo are leaving their apartment, located across the street from the school, and are moving to a house they bought in Southwest Portland. We’re all happy to see them buy their first home, but sad to know we won’t see them as often. They’ve promised to visit from time to time.

We wanted to send them off with a casual gathering and so we did it Sunday. The dogs were well behaved when they weren’t fully occupied with each other and Yukai kept a regal eye on things. The food was delicious. Laura brought enough banana bread that we could share a slice with a few others who came later — a couple whose Australian Shepherd is another regular at the park and an 8-year-old girl who’s won our hearts as someone who adores each of our pets.

She’s Katie. She lives near the school and she visits often, with her younger brother or her best friend, and frequently joins us in a seated circle on the lawn. She knows all of her our names, she throws balls for the dogs, and keeps up to date on school and her other activities.

Her brother Alex and mother, Jo, showed up last night, too. Jo has had a plot in the same school/community garden as Lori, so we’ve met her before.

As we enjoyed the perfect weather and tasty meal, we all agreed how serendipitous it was that just the right circumstances brought us together. All of us were looking for a place to exercise our dogs. We found it and much more: a community of dog owners who’ve transcended generational differences to find friendship.

There’s no doubt we owe it to Coco, Penny and Charlotte — and Yukai.

Previously on this blog: Charlotte’s playground

Reconnecting with Lydia

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Lydia Ramos, flashing her familiar smile.

This past weekend brought one of those moments that provide perspective on professional relationships that evolve into enduring friendships. The best of these cross generational lines, aren’t affected by time and distance, and leave us grateful for the connections made years earlier.

If that sounds rather vague, let me pivot to the specifics.

Last week, my friend Lydia Ramos, a former journalist, let me know she’d be coming up from L.A. to visit a cousin who lives in the Portland suburbs. Could we meet for coffee?

Of course we could. On Saturday morning, we grabbed a table at a favorite neighborhood spot and caught up over two hours of great conversation.

We hadn’t seen each other in about five years — not since we both left the board of trustees of Quill and Scroll, a nonprofit organization that supports high school journalists. For several years, we connected every October at the board’s annual meeting at the University of Iowa.

We touched on Lydia’s recent marriage and latest career moves and I offered a quick update of my own, covering work, travel, family and plans for the future. It was only toward the end of our talk, when the table was cleared, that it dawned on us we’ve known each other for 30 years.

Lydia was a freshman at the University of Southern California when she showed up at an internship and job fair that I was attending as a representative of The Oregonian. Freshmen weren’t supposed to attend, but that didn’t stop Lydia. We saw each other at subsequent job fairs; and though she never came to work at The Oregonian, that didn’t stop us from forming a mutual respect and staying in touch as both our careers progressed.

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George and Lydia at Costello’s Travel Caffe. Go, Ducks (and Trojans)!

Lydia became a reporter at the Los Angeles Times, then a producer for NBC News. She returned to the classroom as a high school English teacher and journalism adviser at her alma mater in Los Angeles, and that’s where she was working when I recruited her to join the Quill & Scroll board.

She caught the eye of the higher-ups who run the L.A. public schools and rose through the ranks, starting as a district spokesperson and rising to director of communications and media relations. In between, she was a special assistant to the superintendent, then took on a similar role as a senior adviser to the head of Boston Public Schools when that district hired as its leader someone she’d worked with in L.A.

I’m skipping over some of details here, but Lydia also completed a leadership development program at Harvard Business School, which explains why she was in striking distance for the Boston schools. Back home in California, she’s launched a communications consulting business focused on executive coaching, communications and leadership development.

At each and every step, Lydia has been a fierce advocate for equity and inclusion. I share those values and admire how she’s been able to embed them so fully into her work and that of the organizations she’s worked for.

For all these achievements, I’ve never seen Lydia as happy as she is now as a newlywed. She and her spouse, Lauren, also a former journalist and L.A.U.S.D. communications specialist, are making their house a home in Long Beach, thanks in large part to Lauren’s amazing carpentry skills. (Believe me, I’ve seen the photos.)

As we toggled back and forth between the past and present, it was fun recalling our mutual acquaintances, our shared interests (Lydia’s a big-time Dodgers fan) and how we teamed up throughout the years.

  • When I was doing some post-riot reporting after a jury acquitted four LAPD officers of using excessive force in the arrest and beating of Rodney King, it was Lydia I turned to for help with community contacts and Spanish translation skills. (She’s fluent; I’m not.)
  • Years later, she joined me on a career development panel at a National Association of Hispanic Journalists convention.
  • I recruited her to participate as a guest blogger in my annual Voices of August project. She wrote a lovely piece that you can read here: “Confessions of a dog mom”
  • We even ran into each other, quite randomly, at a minor league baseball game in Portland one summer. I was hanging out with a group of summer interns at The Oregonian when we spotted each other. She was in the area because she was visiting that same cousin I referenced earlier.
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Princeton and Lydia

Three decades after we met, young Lydia Ramos has become Lydia Ramos-Mendoza, a mature, accomplished professional and a new bride. We’ve both left journalism and have entered new phases, she as a communications consultant and me as a college instructor and new grandparent.

In the 10 years-plus that I worked as a recruiter for The Oregonian, there was nothing I loved more than meeting bright young people with skills, ambition and, most important, good character. Lydia embodies all of these. How fortunate I am to count her among my friends.

Timberrrrs!!

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With handmade banners, incessant drumming and non-stop cheering, the Timbers Army section is as much a focal point as the game itself.

In all my years living here, somehow it took until last night to finally attend a Portland Timbers soccer match.

The experience was all I expected. Fans of all ages decked out in green-and-gold Timbers gear; a rowdy Timbers Army section that led the stadium in a non-stop stream of songs, chants and occasional profanities; and great action on the pitch.

Before the game, you could enjoy traditional Irish bagpipe music and, a few feet away, be amused by a Bible thumper who evidently thought it would be a good idea to proselytize outside the entrance to Providence Park. (Dude, these folks were headed to a sports event, not church.)

Even with long lines for food and drink and even longer lines to the bathroom, the whole atmosphere was upbeat, and I felt a nice buzz in this place that calls itself “Soccer City USA.”

On the field, the Timbers were dominant from start to finish against their regional arch-rival, the Seattle Sounders. They took far more shots on goal, had far more corner kicks, controlled possession of the ball — and still lost.

The Sounders, focused on defense all night and committing lots of fouls, squeaked out a 1-0 win when a ball deflected off the heel of a Timber defender and found the net late in the game. That “own goal” added to Portland’s losing streak, which now sits at four games.

It’s a shame because the Timbers thoroughly outplayed their opponents. All evening, I could sense the pent-up energy, knowing we were one play away from the entire stadium erupting in celebration. But a goal by the home team never came.

In all my years in Portland, I’ve seen the Trail Blazers, Winterhawks, Ducks, Beavers, Pilots and Thorns. And now, thanks to my friend and former co-worker Mike Francis, I can add the Timbers to that list.

***

Mike and I go way back in journalism. Way back as in to the late ’70s, when I was a young reporter at The Bulletin in Bend, Oregon, and Mike was a sports intern. We both wound up at The Oregonian, we both left the newspaper business, and now we’re both working in higher education.

Mike’s just begun a job as assistant director of communications at Pacific University in Forest Grove while I’m teaching undergraduate courses at two campuses in the Portland area.

We’ve always shared a love of baseball, but lucky for me that Mike is a big soccer fan, too. He provided a ticket and a game-day scarf along with running commentary that helped me sort out the players and understand much of what I was seeing, including a nice tradition of waving your scarf during the National Anthem.

I plan to repay the favor at a Blazers game this season. It’s a different fan experience, for sure, one that’s curated by the franchise itself as opposed to the fan-driven spectacle created by the Timbers Army.  Very cool to be part of the latter, even if just for one night.

Kickin’ back at the coast

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Nature in all its beauty. Looking north along the Pacific Coast from a residential street in Manzanita.

Simple pleasures come in all forms. Last weekend was proof that you don’t need much to enjoy yourself.

On Friday, Lori and I headed to Manzanita on the northern Oregon Coast to spend a couple of days and nights visiting our longtime friends, Steve and Kelly Kern. Ours is a friendship that began about 25 years ago, when their oldest child, Matt, and our youngest, Jordan, were classmates in a neighborhood preschool.

The friendship has endured through years of play dates, sleepovers and summer camps; middle school and high school; and, now, that phase when all our kids are grown adults and living in different states.

That shared history makes for a relaxing visit, especially when it’s reinforced by the Kerns’ welcoming vibe and lack of any agenda.

We visited the local farmers market on Friday and had a leisurely walk on the beach Saturday morning. Steve and I did some impromptu crabbing at nearby Nehalem Bay on Saturday afternoon, and we all played a favorite board game (Wits & Wagers) that night.

In between activities, we ate well. Steve and Kelly are vegans, so we had healthy homemade meals. (I was glad to see them make a dietary exception for the fresh-cooked crab that we had Saturday night.)

The night before, another longtime friend and fellow preschool parent, Rebecca Bauer, joined us for dinner following an early-evening walk on the hilly neighborhood streets above the Kerns’ home.

We spent less than 48 hours in Manzanita but the respite felt twice as long.

When you grow accustomed to city life as we have, it’s a pleasant experience to find yourself in a place that’s ultra-quiet and just one short block away from the beach.

Our little dog, Charlotte, came along and enjoyed herself, too. It takes her about two minutes to make herself at home.

We ended our visit with Sunday lunch on an outdoor patio at the historic San Dune Pub, a local institution that made at least one reviewer’s list of 10 Best Bars Outside of Portland. After wolfing down a Po’Boy with Prawns, I concur.

A few images to remember the weekend:

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Celebrating Som Subedi. Celebrating immigrants.

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Som Subedi: Refugee, community activist, ‘force of nature’

Ten years ago this week, Som Subedi arrived in America with $10 and change in his pockets and a big plastic bag for his belongings. He was a refugee from the Kingdom of Bhutan and had spent years in a camp in Nepal with his parents and three siblings.

On Tuesday, June 19, this brown-skinned man with a huge heart and energy to burn, celebrated his 10-year anniversary of living in the United States.

And how did he do that? By giving back.

Som hosted a community dinner for 100 guests at a Cambodian restaurant in Northeast Portland. I was honored to be among them.

While the food and drinks were appreciated, and we all joined in celebrating Som’s many accomplishments and contributions to the community, there was something bigger to the event. In truth, Som’s gift to all was providing a venue for Portlanders of all races and ethnicities to celebrate the presence of immigrants in our community.

The event could not have come at a better time.

During a week when President Trump was shamed into signing an executive order to stop separating families at the U.S.-Mexico border, Tuesday’s dinner was a grand opportunity to recognize the contributions that immigrants make to the political, social and cultural fabric of our city, state and country.

In Som’s case, it’s an amazing list.

But, first, let me set the scene at Mekong Bistro:

In this spacious restaurant just off 82nd Avenue, you had community elders, families, educators, political activists, college students and friends coming together as if it were a mini United Nations.

I met people from Togo and Russia and Thailand while drinking beer produced in Cambodia and Laos. People from all over Southeast Asia and Africa mingled with North Americans and Central Americans. We listened to music performed by individuals from Nepal and Vietnam.

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Poster boards displayed photographs of Som with Gov. Kate Brown, both of Oregon’s U.S. senators, and several local politicians, as well as from protests, rallies, soccer tournaments and other community events that Som has had a hand in organizing.

Senator Jeff Merkley appeared on video from Washington, D.C., saying, “It’s important to celebrate the important work that immigrants do when they come to this country.”

A representative of Senator Ron Wyden shared her personal tribute and then presented Som with a flag that had been flown over the U.S. Capitol.

Two Portland city commissioners, Amanda Fritz and Chloe Eudaly, were among those who took a turn at the mic. as did some of Som’s co-workers and mentors. Called upon unexpectedly by the moderator, I did too.

A mutual friend, Ronault LS “Polo” Catalani, whom I’ve known since we played basketball at the Salem YMCA three decades earlier, had also moved to Portland. Polo, a Spanish-speaking lawyer and activist from Malaysia, invited me to a lunch with a handful of community leaders in the S.E. Asian community at a time when I was The Oregonian’s Sunday Opinion editor and looking to tap into new voices and new perspectives.

Of the group, only Som stayed in touch. He wound up writing a couple of poignant op-ed pieces that we published, starting with this one in December 2010: Bhutanese refugees: American dream tantalizes, deceives

He also wrote this in November 2011:  America’s proud tradition of generosity to immigrants.

In time, Som would also be published or written about in The Seattle Times, Los Angeles Times, National Public Radio and Oregon Public Broadcasting, plus many more times in The Oregonian and OregonLive.

I commended Som on his record as a community ambassador and wished him well in his next 10 years.

***

As for the man of the hour, he’s accomplished — and given back — more in just a short few years than most people do in a lifetime.

Arriving in 2008 with a limited grasp of English, he met a volunteer ESL tutor with a nonprofit organization that helps newly arrived refugees find work and a level of self-sufficiency with everyday tasks like shopping, banking and using public transit.

Within seven years, Som had not only found work but also bought a home and a new car. He and his wife are raising a young daughter and twin boys.

Som’s first job meant working the night shift at a Popeye’s. He later became a case manager for a social services agency assisting refugees. More recently, he’s worked for the city’s Parks for New Portlanders program, part of the Bureau of Parks & Recreation. Last year, Som was honored as Park Champion of the Year by the National Recreation and Park Association, and traveled to Washington, D.C., to receive the award.

A fellow employee at Parks & Rec described Som as “a force of nature” in terms of what he brings to work — uncommon enthusiasm, a legendary work ethic, and a constantly growing network of politicians and community contacts who can help refugees and immigrants adjust to life in their new country.

His ideas aren’t too bad, either. In 2010, Som organized the first Portland World Cup, a soccer tournament conceived as a way to bring together young immigrants as an alternative to the allure of gangs. It’s grown to include two dozen teams and players speaking at least 23 languages.

In his remarks, Som displayed both a sense of humor and a continued commitment to serve. Laughing, he recalled his confusion over going to Papa Murphy’s and buying a to-go pizza that was unbaked. He said he’s figured out the difference between “hippie” and “hipster” and “realized that ‘Portlandia’ is an exaggeration.”

In the next 10 years, he vowed to sleep more, take care of his health, write a movie script (“I feel strongly I have a story to tell”) and, of course, give back to the community. He called attention to the PDX World Refugee Day celebration this Saturday and, in closing, urged us all: “Vote this November and make a difference.”

In sum, Tuesday was an occasion to celebrate a remarkable man and his personal milestone. I felt privileged to be invited and left with a sense of gratitude to celebrate not just Som but all immigrants who make our community a better place.

 

Family, friends and hoops at Easter

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George and Lori on Easter Sunday 2018.

What a great way to end spring break: Easter dinner with family, followed by a Trail Blazers game with longtime friends.

I didn’t plan it this way, but it worked out just the same. Weeks ago, when I was scanning the Blazers schedule for a weekend game to attend, I bought tickets to the April 1 match-up against Memphis, thinking we would be returning from vacation a day earlier. It was only later that I realized the game would be played on Easter Sunday.

Oops.

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Simone & Kyndall

Simone & Kyndall and Nathan & Sara came over during the afternoon for an early dinner of ham, potatoes, salad, deviled eggs and carrot cake. We got caught up on recent travels (S&K to Victoria, British Columbia) and plans for next month’s wedding (N&S are tying the knot after a 8-year courtship — yay!).

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Carrot cake, topped by a white chocolate bunny, made by Simone.

It’s always fun being around our kids and their partners. Soon enough, we’ll have a chance to see all three reunited when Jordan, Jamie & Emalyn come out to Portland for the wedding.

(Love this gallery. Credit goes to Simone, the photographer.) 

After the meal, Nathan and I had a NBA game to catch. At the arena, we met up with Bob and Chris Ehlers, whom we’ve known since Chris and Nathan were born the same week in the same hospital in Salem, Oregon, in 1980. Bob and his wife, Deborah, were in the same babysitting co-op that formed among us and a few other new parents. So, clearly, we got back quite a ways.

For the record, the Blazers whipped the Grizzles, 113-98, behind the stellar play of All-Star guard Damian Lillard. With the win, the Blazers secured a spot in the playoffs for the fifth straight year.

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Dos amigos: Chris & Nathan

Far more entertaining was seeing our boys exchange hugs and launch into 2 1/2 hours of animated conversation as they sat to our left. They were best buddies in the co-op and seemingly have only grown closer over the years, despite periods where they’ve gone years without seeing each other.

Chris is an adventurous sort who has traveled across much of Europe and Asia, and only recently moved back to the U.S. after several years of teaching English and running a restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

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Bob, Chris & Nathan

The two of us dads managed to interrupt our sons at halftime as we gathered around a bistro table with our beers. Next up: A gathering to include our wives.

 

 

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.

fall leaves

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

george-al

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.

rede wedding

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.

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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.

(Click on images to view captions.)

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.