Ohio on my mind

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On the Cincinnati riverfront in May 2016.

The Buckeye State and the Beaver State have so little in common that it’s hard to think of a logical start to this post.

Ohio is a typical Midwestern state stretching from the Great Lakes to the Ohio River, a political swing state with a big industrial base but also a big chunk of poverty-stricken Appalachia. With 12 million people, its population triples that of Oregon.

Oregon has the Pacific Coast, the Cascade Mountains and Crater Lake, and is a reliably blue state, one of just five left where Democrats control the governor’s office and both houses in the legislature. We’re so predictable that neither Trump nor Clinton campaigned here last year, knowing that our few electoral votes would go to Hillary.

So I’m just going to dive in and say that as a longtime Oregonian, it’s odd to realize how much the state of Ohio has intruded on my consciousness during the past year.

The connection took root last spring when I spent some time in Ohio at the tail end of a whirlwind trip whose main purpose was to see four baseball games in three cities in the space of five days. I began in Pittsburgh, then shimmied over to Ohio.

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My rental car and airbnb rental in the Ohio City historic district of Cleveland.

I saw one game in Cleveland and spent the night there, then drove to Cincinnati and did the same there.

Before then, I’d passed through Cleveland twice before in the mid-70s as a college student heading to summer internships in Washington, D.C., and again more recently on a road trip with my daughter to get her settled for graduate school in Pittsburgh. We made time to visit the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

Years earlier, Simone and I also got a look at Oberlin College, on the outskirts of Cleveland, as she was considering where to go for undergraduate school. (Thank goodness, she didn’t choose Oberlin.)

In any case, here’s how Ohio has burrowed itself into my mind:

— When I visited in May, the first highway sign that greeted me upon entering the state bore the name of Governor John Kasich. Hey, remember him?

— Arriving early for the baseball game in downtown Cleveland, I was dazzled by Progressive Field, one of the most beautiful stadiums I’ve seen. In the fall, the Indians would return to the World Series and lose a heartbreaking Game 7 to the Chicago Cubs.

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Progressive Field is a great venue. It was ranked as Major League Baseball’s best ballpark in a 2008 Sports Illustrated fan opinion poll.

— A short walk away is Quicken Loans Arena, bearing larger-than-life images of LeBron James and his teammates. In June, a month after my visit, the Cavaliers would win the NBA Championship in a thrilling Game 7 against the Golden State Warriors. In July, delegates to the Republican National Convention would nominate Trump for president.

— In Cincinnati, I got to attend a Reds game with Anne Saker, my former co-worker at The Oregonian. A native Ohioan, she’s now working as a reporter at The Cincinnati Enquirer. Peter Bhatia, my former boss in Portland, is now the editor at the Enquirer. The newspaper made the news last fall when its editorial board endorsed Clinton for president — the first time in nearly a century that it had backed a Democrat.

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— Before the game, I had lunch with Rachel Lippolis, a regular contributor to this blog over the years. Though we’ve been online friends for several years, this was the first time we’d met in person. Rachel, another native Ohioan, was pregnant then and became a mother in October. For some odd reason, her alma mater, Denison College, is represented among the college and university banners lining one wall of the entrance to the building where I work for an education nonprofit.

— That afternoon, I also explored the Queen City’s riverfront. Looking south into Kentucky, I hadn’t realized the Ohio River had served as the dividing line between the free North and the Southern slave states. It was a powerful, wrenching moment that stays with me still. Part of the reason why is that I spent some time in the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, learning more about the region’s history and viewing museum exhibits that included an actual slave pen with shackles chained to the floor. Chilling.

— Back in Oregon, I became a grandparent in late July. Looking for a suitable gift for daughter-in-law Jamie, I stumbled upon a wonderful book and blog titled “Becoming Mother.” I  bought the book and sent off a complimentary email to its author, Sharon Tjaden-Glass.

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Sharon Tjaden-Glass

We became Facebook friends and soon enough, Sharon landed in this space as a guest blogger, writing about life in a swing state and then about the horror of discovering her baby’s due date was Inauguration Day. She lives in Dayton, a place I came nowhere near during my 2016 trip. I don’t imagine we’ll ever meet, but it’s still nice to connect with a millennial who’s a kindred spirit. (Her newborn son delayed his arrival until early February.)

— Two books I read during the latter half of 2016 were set in Ohio. One, by Celeste Ng, is titled “Everything I Never Told You,” and takes place in the late ’70s in the fictional small town of Middlewood. The novel is centered on the tensions within a family made up of a Chinese American father, an Anglo mother and their three reclusive children. The other, by J.D. Vance, is “Hillbilly Elegy,” a memoir of growing up amidst generational poverty and low educational expectations in Appalachia, first in eastern Kentucky and then in southwest Ohio, in the now-decaying steel town of Middletown.

— A Netflix movie that Lori and I rented was filmed on location in Ohio. “Liberal Arts” stars Josh Radnor as a disillusioned New Yorker who returns to campus at the invitation of a retiring favorite professor. The scenery at Kenyon College is breathtaking, reminiscent of Oregon’s many hues of green. And the movie, also starring Elizabeth Olsen (younger sister to the Olsen twins), is actually pretty good.

— Before the year ended, I met with another former co-worker, Steve Woodward, when I was looking for ideas to incorporate into my college teaching this term. Steve was a guest lecturer in two of my classes last week and, wouldn’t you know it, he too is from Dayton and a graduate of nearby Wright State University. Once a reporter and editor at The Oregonian, Steve is now CEO of his own online news startup and one of the most forward-thinking individuals I know.

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The “Sing the Queen City” 3D Art Sculpture, is the signature piece and part of the ArtWorks urban public art project known as “CincyInk.” (Photography by Brooke Hanna.)

I could go on about my discovery of a little indie band called Over The Rhine, named for a neighborhood in Cincinnati. Or about my newfound love of Cincinnati Chili, a no-beans chili made with cinnamon, cloves and chocolate that’s paired with spaghetti and shredded cheddar cheese. But that might make a person wonder if I’m thinking of moving to Ohio.

No. Way.

Taking a break from bowling

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Good times on Monday nights. The fab four from left: Mike (Spud) Slama, George (The Professor) Rede, Joel (The Dude) Odom and Brian (El Chapo) Wartell.

They say all good things must come to an end. Even bowling.

After seven years in a Monday night beer league, I’m zipping up my bowling bag and putting my shoes and ball away for the next few months. Now that I’m teaching three classes on two college campuses, I’m going to need every available night during the week to keep on top of all of it: lectures, readings, exams, student work, emails, etc.

It’s been all fun since this Monday night activity got started in January 2010. I’ve bowled with a changing cast of friends and co-workers who’ve come and gone due to work and personal commitments.

We’ve bowled at two venues — the venerable Hollywood Bowl (now a hardware store) and AMF Pro 300.

We’ve bowled under five different names — Broken Taco Shells, Steamin’ Chalupas, The Cheeseheads (when I was the only guy with three women who were Green Bay Packers fans), the Mediaocracies (when my teammates were primarily former colleagues from The Oregonian/OregonLive) and, most recently, Bowling 4 Goats.

A teammate came up with the latter name during a Happy Hour brainstorming session. Silly? Of course. Why goats? Why not? Portland is one of those places known for urban chickens and urban goats – and, in fact, even has a resident herd, The Belmont Goats, with their own Facebook page and Instagram account.

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Portland’s own Belmont Goats.

We’ve bowled well (league champs one season) and we’ve bowled poorly (last-place finish another season).

Through it all, the weekly routine has provided a place to unwind. A place to celebrate strikes and spares, and to shrug off life’s gutter balls. A place to talk about work, family, books, sports, movies, music, travel, politics and (this being Portland) food — all while socializing with average joes and jills from all walks of life.

Last night, my teammates and I celebrated the end of our fall 2016 season. Out of 19 teams, we finished in third place with a record of 42 wins and 22 losses, 3 games behind the first-place team. I averaged 151 for the season –which was a personal best and one pin above my goal..

As before, we celebrated at Tilt, home of the biggest and baddest burgers in town.

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Clockwise from left: George, Mike, Joel and Brian raise a toast to Bowling 4 Goats.

I told my teammates I was dropping out temporarily and hoped to rejoin them next summer or fall. Until then, thanks to my bowling buddies — Brian, Joel and Mike and so many more — for the memories of the past seven years.

Photo montage: The Belmont Goats

The amazing Brenda Tracy

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Brenda Tracy, the last and most riveting of our guest speakers in Media Ethics, an undergraduate course at Portland State University.

If you don’t know Brenda Tracy’s story, you should.

Few, if any, of my Media Ethics students had even heard of her until Brenda spoke to them in class two weeks ago. After listening to Brenda describe her journey from gang-rape survivor with no self-esteem to self-confident public speaker on sexual abuse and rape culture, I doubt they will ever forget her.

I already knew Brenda’s compelling story, having read it two years ago when it landed on the front page of The Sunday Oregonian. But as I listened to her retell it that Thursday morning, I knew I had made the right choice inviting her to be our final guest speaker for the fall term.

My students had already learned a lot from previous speakers — a variety of journalists and public relations professionals — about how to do journalism ethically and responsibly. How to report accurately while also practicing discretion about unnecessary details. How to show empathy without losing one’s objectivity. How to interview a vulnerable subject about sensitive issues and help that person brace for the resulting public exposure and reader reaction.

But the students hadn’t heard directly from anyone who could tell them what it’s like to entrust the telling of your story — including invasive, humiliating facts — to a reporter. For an hour, they listened and learned as this remarkable woman reflected on her experiences and credited a principled and highly skilled journalist for restoring her dignity and bringing her out of the shadows. .

***

In 1998, Brenda Tracy was a waitress, a 24-year-old single mother of two boys, when she was gang-raped by four men, two college football players and two recruits, in an off-campus apartment near Oregon State University.

She’d been sexually abused as a child and had been in abusive relationships as a young woman. After the attack, Brenda said, she felt suicidal, her self-esteem in shreds.

The four men were charged but never brought to trial. The local district attorney needed Brenda’s cooperation to get convictions but she wavered, feeling lack of support from people closest to her and believing herself not strong enough to go through the process.

She didn’t know the prosecutor had taped confessions from the suspects. She didn’t know the police had tossed out her rape kit without even testing it.

She only knew that two Oregon State players were suspended for one game and ordered to give 25 hours of community service for what their coach, Mike Riley, called “a bad choice.” The other two suspects went unpunished.

Brenda said she hated Riley for years, hated him even more than her rapists. But she finally met with him this year, after he said he regretted making the “bad choice” remark, and changed her opinion of the man.

After Riley left Oregon last year to become head coach at the University of Nebraska, he invited Brenda to speak to all 144 members of his football team this summer and formally apologized to her.

“We talked about consent and we brainstormed ideas about how they could get involved individually and as a team to change the culture that valued winning over human lives,” Brenda wrote following her June 22 visit with the team. “We covered a lot of ground in that one hour and when it was over many of them came up to me and shook my hand or gave me a hug and thanked me for being there.”

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Brenda Tracy with Coach Mike Riley following their meeting in Lincoln, Nebraska on June 22, 2016. (Photograph by Brenda Tracy)

***

Today, at 43, Brenda Tracy is more than a rape survivor. Brenda is a registered nurse and a paid consultant working with Oregon State officials to prevent sexual violence, especially involving college athletes. She’s also a citizen activist who’s lobbied for changes in Oregon’s rape laws, providing more time to bring charges in the most serious cases.

She worked with a Portland attorney on 2015 legislation that extended Oregon’s statute of limitations for first-degree sex crimes from six to 12 years, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported. A law passed the following year provides that if new evidence emerges — such as a previously untested rape kit, or new testimony from witnesses or other victims — a case can be reconsidered at any time.

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Brenda Tracy is the featured speaker at a conference planned in Vancouver, Washington, early next year.

Since sports columnist John Canzano told her story in November 2014, Brenda has been interviewed by local and national media, appeared on television, spoken at college campuses, and testified before Oregon lawmakers.

None of these efforts to help other rape survivors would have been possible without the publication of a story that allowed her to heal emotionally. To see herself once again as a person worthy of respect. And to challenge the notion that victims are responsible for what happened to them.

“John absolutely changed my life,” Brenda said. “He transformed my entire life.”

***

Until she spoke to my class, I hadn’t met Brenda Tracy. We’d exchanged emails and spoken by phone this summer when I was setting up a Skype interview with her for two high school students I mentored during a journalism camp at Oregon State.

I was impressed that she made time to speak to the two teenagers, considering it was the day before she was scheduled to fly to Lincoln, Nebraska, to speak to Riley’s football team. A real sign of her character, I thought.

In person, Brenda was warm and gracious.She spoke without notes and patiently answered students’ questions. It was clear that her tale of personal redemption and her testament to the power of ethical journalism resonated with both men and women in my class. .

“If you write these stories, you have to understand this is a life,” she told them. “It’s not about you — it’s about the victim, it’s about the survivor.”

When the hour was up, she gave me a hug in front of the class and offered to come speak again.

We often toss around the words “hero” and “amazing” to describe people who’ve displayed uncommon courage or done extraordinary things. In my mind, there is no doubt both words apply to Brenda Tracy.

***

Read John Canzano’s 2014 story here.

Read continuing coverage of Brenda Tracy here.

Follow Brenda Tracy on Facebook here.

None and done

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Losers.

There’s a saying common among disappointed fans when their favorite sports team works hard to make the playoffs, then loses a single game and — poof, just like that — is done for the season.

It’s called “one and done.”

This year, my three favorite Major League Baseball teams mustered a collective “none and done.”

Meaning? They didn’t even reach the playoffs. Not a single one of them.

With the 2016 MLB playoffs swinging into action this week, I’ve got no one to root for.

  • The Oakland Athletics were weak all season and finished last among five teams in the American League West Division with a sorry record of 69 wins, 93 losses.
  • The Pittsburgh Pirates never really got it together and finished third in the National League Central Division with 78 wins, 83 losses.
  • The Detroit Tigers came close with 86 wins, 75 losses, good for second place in the American League Central Division, but not quite enough to earn of the five playoff spots.

The Tigers went out with a whimper, losing their last two games to one of the worst teams in baseball.

I had high hopes for the Pirates, since they had made the playoffs the last three years and seemed poised to make another run. Instead, they faded during the second half of the season and wound up losing 16 more games than they had the previous year.

Early in the season, I had the good fortune to see four baseball games in three cities during a five-day span in May.

I was so excited to see the Pirates play at home twice — and so bummed to see them get whipped twice by the Chicago Cubs.

Likewise, I traveled to Cleveland to see the Tigers on the road. They, too, got hammered.

I didn’t make it down to the Bay Area this year. Otherwise, I’m sure, I would have see the A’s lose, too.

Ah, well, it’s just a game.

This year, I hope the Cubs finally make it to the World Series and win the championship that’s eluded them for 108 years. Sad to say, the Cubs haven’t won the World Series since 1908 — and haven’t even played for the championship since 1945.

No longer a doormat, they were the best team in baseball this year, racking up 103 wins en route to the National League Central Division championship. They have all the pieces this year — great pitching, great hitting, a good balance of speed and power, and a smart manager. If they don’t win it all this year, I don’t know when they ever will.

As for my trio of also-rans, here’s hoping for better results in 2017.

 

 

 

Return to Healy Heights

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A 1956 Colonial once owned by Portland businessman Ira Keller is a prominent sight in the Hessler Hills neighborhood.

In April, a friend and I set out on an urban hike that was supposed to take us on a 4-mile loop from Hillsdale to Healy Heights, a posh hilltop neighborhood in Southwest Portland.

I screwed up. What should have been a 2-hour hike became 5 miles and 3 hours because I didn’t pay close enough attention to directions in my guide book and we veered off course. Making matters worse, light drizzle turned to steady rain as we plodded along, culminating in a steady downpour at Council Crest Park, where supposedly unrivaled views of Portland were obliterated by cloud cover and a pounding rain.

I scolded myself and vowed to come back on a sunny day.

On the last Thursday in August, I did just that. And I was amply rewarded.

This time, the hike did take just two hours. Although I saw plenty of familiar sights, following the correct route took me into areas of Healy Heights I’d missed before. Plus, I made it to the 1,000-foot summit of Council Crest, trekking to the end of a dead-end street where you come to the locked gatehouse of the Stonehenge radio tower. The antenna rises 607 feet and is easily visible from Portland’s east side.

Enough chatter. Here are the highlights of my second trip:

Keller Woodland: Reached via a dead end on Northwood Avenue, this beautiful greenspace is owned by the Three Rivers Land Conservancy, according to Laura O. Foster, author of my well-worn copy of “Portland Hill Walks.”

Portland businessman Ira Keller originally owned the nearly 40 acres, but sold it to the Nature Conservancy, which later gave it to Three Rivers, Foster says. It’s too bad it’s so secluded. Then again, light foot traffic is what keeps the forested area so lovely.

Hessler Hills: The woodland trail leads into what Foster calls “the isolated and tony” Hessler Hills neighborhood. Except for the forested path, there’s only one way into this area of gaudy homes and panoramic views of the Willamette River, stretching from the Fremont Bridge to Ross Island.

Walking here and along Fairmount Boulevard, another forested route in this hilly area, I spotted a handful of “for sale” signs with asking prices ranging from $1.1 million to $2.2 million.

Not for sale is the spectacular home once owned by the aforementioned Keller. It stands alone across a ravine on Northwood, with a commanding view of the Willamette and the Cascade Range. This is the same Keller who served as chairman of the Portland Planning Commission and for whom a fountain across from Civic Auditorium is named.

Fairmount Boulevard: This 4-mile-long, two-lane road without sidewalks is popular with joggers and cyclists. Sure enough, I saw people on foot, more with and without dogs, and on bicycles.

If anything, the homes along this road are even more ginormous than in Hessler Hills, with three- and four-story homes built on stilts on wooded hillsides.

Healy Heights: Unlike the April hike, when I lost my way and wound up at Council Crest Park, this time I walked up steep residential streets with constantly changing views of the city.

From Foster’s book, I learned that the area was developed in the 1930s by Joseph Healy, who called it “the Switzerland of America.” A bit of an exaggeration. Healy named the streets after various family members: Carl, McDonnell, Patrick and Bernard. A nice gesture, I suppose.

On one street corner, I saw a number of crushed cardboard boxes spilling out of a recycling bin. Hmm, I wondered, does a Nike executive live there?

Further up the bill, a funny coincidence. I had just started up Carl Place, the dead-end street, when I heard a Spanish-language commercial for a local car dealer, Carl Chevrolet, coming from the vicinity of one of these big-ass homes. One Latino laborer was on the ground using a leaf blower while another above him was tossing roof shingles and other materials into a trailer. They were, of course, listening to the radio as they worked.

Descending the summit, I came across more of the same: Latino men cutting tree limbs by hand, mowing lawns and building new homes for even more well-to-do owners. Where would this country be without the myriad skills provided by mi gente?

Healy Heights Park: If anything symbolizes the isolation and exclusivity of this area, it’s the neighborhood park. It’s owned by the city but it has the look and feel of a private playground.

Barely more than an acre, it has climbing equipment, a soccer goal, a baseball backstop, and a basketball court with a surface made from recycled shoes donated by Nike. Sure enough, the trademark swoosh is found at center court. Signs advertising a neighborhood potluck added to the private vibe.

Hillsdale: The trek back down to flat land took me back along a previously traveled route, from Fairmount Boulevard to a series of hidden staircases descending to a range of midcentury homes along SW 19th Drive and Sunset Boulevard.

Even after two visits here, I still have unfinished business. Gotta come back one more time to hike the Marquam Nature Park trail connecting Council Crest with the Oregon Health & Science University campus.

 

Walking among the dead

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Hard to believe you’re in the middle of a city when you’re all alone on this path.

I didn’t know what to think when I leafed through my urban hiking guide and spotted the 4.5-mile route called “Marshall Park Canyon and Cemeteries Loop.”

I’d never heard of Marshall Park. Walking through multiple cemeteries, let alone one, seemed like an odd wrinkle. But after completing the hike in Southwest Portland in mid-August, I’ve got to say it ranks among the most interesting I’ve done this year.

This particular route, outlined in Laura O. Foster’s “Portland Hill Walks,” has a little of everything going for it:

  • A spectacular urban park with giant trees, shaded paths and pristine creeks tumbling over rocks.
  • Quiet streets off the beaten path in neighborhoods with few sidewalks.
  • Cemeteries offering solitude and a space to reflect on the thousands of lives represented by so many graves.

Since January, this gold mine of a book has led me into neighborhoods I never knew before, enriching my appreciation of a city I thought I knew rather well. My recent hike revealed yet another major gap in my knowledge of Portland.

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Let’s start with Marshall Park. It’s east of I-5 and south of SW Terwilliger Boulevard as you head east toward Lewis & Clark Law School and Tryon Creek State Park. More specifically, the park lies just east of SW Taylors Ferry Road in the South Burlingame neighborhood. The western entrance to the park is on SW 18th Place in the middle of a residential area.

From the moment I left the parking area and stepped onto the trail, all I could hear was the sound of my own footsteps.

It’s a magnificent space, smaller than but reminiscent of Lower Macleay Park and Balch Creek Canyon. Here in Marshall Park, you have Douglas fir and maple trees, and a tributary of Tryon Creek. There are foot bridges, a children’s play area and trails crisscrossing the park and its 400-foot-wide canyon. It’s hard to believe it was once a quarry.

According to Foster, F.C. and Addie Marshall donated the land to the city in 1951 and additional acreage was later purchased. Good call.

Emerging onto SW Maplecrest Drive, you head east toward Terwilliger Boulevard, crossing at SW 2nd Avenue,  located just west of the law school.

It’s a steep climb into the Collins View neighborhood. Like the homes on Maplecrest, each house up here is decidedly different from the other. No bland sameness at all.

At the top of the hill, turning right onto SW Alice puts you an unpaved stub of a street. And here, to my delight, was the Ahavai Sholom Cemetery, established in 1869. Its name means “lovers of peace.”

It was a toasty afternoon so I made my way to a shaded bench and quietly admired the gumption that Portland’s earliest Jewish immigrants must have had — to settle here, establish businesses and synagogues, raise their families, and acquire a site to bury their loved ones.

One grave marker, with a running water feature, caught my eye with a small plaque bearing these words:

We determine how we are remembered

By the way we live our days.

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A grave marker with a water feature offers a profound thought about our legacies.

I left the cemetery, headed one block north and one block east and found myself at the southern  entrance to Riverview Cemetery. Unlike the modest, crowded Jewish cemetery, this vast, sprawling site offered a park-like setting with rolling green hills of manicured lawns, a huge variety of trees and an eastward-looking view that included a distant Mount Hood.

Except for two bike riders barreling through and the occasional maintenance truck, I was all alone. Hiking through a cemetery on an urban walk might strike some as creepy. But, honestly, it was a calming experience. Surrounded everywhere by silence, I felt respect for the dead and reverence for life.

Where the Jewish cemetery was chock-full of headstones bearing the Star of David, Hebrew characters and names like Kaufman, Sherman and Schwartz, Riverview was filled with names like Smith, Gardner and Stevens.

One particular feature of the cemetery gave me pause. Beneath a massive oak tree there was a section dedicated to babies. Some who died when they were days or weeks old, others a few months, still others the day they were born. Seeing those rows of grave markers set flush with the grass, with dates going back to the ’50s and ’60s, made me keenly aware of the losses endured by so many families. Imagine all those lives cut short and the enduring heartbreak.

In the midst of all this, another thought came to mind: how death truly is the great equalizer. Rich or poor, young or old, accidental death or not, all these people were now in the ground, where status didn’t matter.

***

Winding through the cemetery, I emerged at the northern exit from the cemetery — within shouting distance of three more cemeteries — and crossed SW Taylors Ferry Road into another cluster of homes largely free of sidewalks and, on this hot summer afternoon, people.

The route took me south toward Terwilliger, where I crossed again and found myself in the South Burlingame neighborhood, a more affluent area of single-family homes. Continuing south, I worked my way down to Taylors Ferry Road and then Taylors Ferry Court and SW 12th Avenue, yet another area of the city short on sidewalks but long on character.

Once again, I felt as if I were taking a walk down a country road. Yet, I was very much in the heart of a city of 600,000 residents. SW 12th led me into the eastern entrance to Marshall Park, where I escaped the heat on trails that led me back to my car.

I literally paused in disbelief. Here I was in the middle of a forest less than a mile from the roaring I-5 freeway. How had I not known about Marshall Park? What a jewel on the city’s west side.

***

I’ll end with this quote from the naturalist John Muir, displayed in a poetry post on SW 2nd Avenue. Seems to perfectly capture my experience on this hike.

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”

Mediocre once again

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Team selfie in the bowels of the bowling alley. From left: Joel Odom, Mike Slama, George Rede, Brian Wartell.

Our summer bowling season came to a merciful end last month. A blazing start that had us in first place for a week or two was followed by a mid-season meltdown and a tepid comeback.

Add it all up and the Mediaocracies finished with a record of 21 wins, 23 losses — good enough for a 9th-place finish among 16 teams in the Average Joe’s League at AMF Pro 300 Lanes.

We’d come into the season with great momentum, tying for 4th place among 22 teams competing in the spring league. (The proof? “Mediocre no more”) And though we got off to a good start, the wheels fell off while our best bowler was away on an extended vacation.

We hit an ugly patch where we lost 12 games in a row. This is a coed, non-sanctioned league and we know that camaraderie trumps competition in this Monday night league, so we couldn’t get too upset with ourselves. Still, you want to do your best and actually win once in a while.

Joel Odom led the way for us with a 178 average. The rest of us — Mike Slama, Brian Wartell and myself — had our moments but in the end we all finished in the low 140s.

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Strong start + weak finish = 9th place.

On Monday, we came together for the season-ending “fun bowl,” when you play for free and team winnings are distributed according to your finish. Our haul — just short of $75 — covered the cost of a post-bowl happy hour at a nearby brewpub and helped fuel some brainstorming.

Two changes are in store when we come back for the fall season:

  1. A new lineup. We’re changing the order of who bowls first, second, third and fourth.
  2. A new nickname. We’re retiring the “Mediaocracies” and moving on to something more fun.

Stay tuned. We’ll see how we do.

America: Still ‘the beautiful’?

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Iconic greats James Taylor, at 68, and Jackson Browne, 67, still bring it. Big time.

By Michael Granberry

CHICAGO — On a cloudless night in late June, my wife and I began our vacation at Wrigley Field. Sitting in the outfield just a few rows back from the stage, we listened to James Taylor sing “America the Beautiful.”

Thus began my long period of introspection. Is it really “America the Beautiful?” Is it still? Despite Taylor’s velvet baritone insisting it was, I couldn’t help thinking of our national rage, of mass shootings, deep, ugly racial divisions and hopeless politics.

We had begun our 12-day vacation on the banks of Lake Michigan because I wanted to see my favorite singer-songwriter, Jackson Browne, team up with a fellow member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Browne and Taylor are iconic greats from the early 1970s, when I was in college, bursting with innocence and idealism.

Jackson and James did not disappoint.

Michael Granberry

Michael Granberry

With the sun still shining on the 102-year-old ballpark where Babe Ruth allegedly called his shot by pointing to where he would (and did) hit a homer in the 1932 World Series, Browne opened with “Rock Me on the Water.”

Oh, people, look around you, the signs are everywhere.

He played “Fountain of Sorrow,” from his landmark 1974 album, Late for the Sky; “Somebody’s Baby” from the soundtrack of Sean Penn’s 1982 breakout film, Fast Times at Ridgemont High; and “These Days,” which Browne wrote when he was only 16.

“These Days” ends with one of my favorite declarations:

Don’t confront me with my failures
I had not forgotten them

He played “The Pretender” and “Running on Empty” before inviting Taylor to the stage for a pair of duets: “Take It Easy,” which Browne co-wrote with the late Glenn Frey, who used the song as the Eagles’ signature anthem, and “For a Rocker.”

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A 12-day, multistate vacation began in Chicago with a concert at venerable Wrigley Field.

Then it was Taylor’s turn, and though I was there mainly to hear Browne, Taylor emerged as an AARP revelation. Browne is 67, Taylor 68. The tall, balding singer sang 21 songs, launching his two-hour set with “Something in the Way She Moves.”

He covered Carole King’s “Up on the Roof” and “You’ve Got a Friend” — which he said King wrote for him, back when Taylor, Browne and King were all performing at the legendary Troubadour in West Hollywood in the halcyon era of the early 1970s.

Taylor sang “Carolina in My Mind,” saying he wrote it in London, where he had gone at the invitation of a group called the Beatles to record his debut album on the Fab Four’s Apple Records. Despite the euphoria of reaching such a pivotal moment, what he mainly felt, he said, was homesick.

And so a classic song was born. He sang “Angels of Fenway,” drawing a smattering of friendly boos when he told the Chicago crowd how deeply he felt their pain. He’s a Red Sox fan who had to wait until 2004 to see the Curse of the Bambino — inspired by the Red Sox inexplicably trading the Babe to the dreaded New York Yankees – die a slow, painful death. After decades of futility and failure, the Bosox had emerged as champs. At the moment, Chicago is cautiously optimistic that 2016 will be the first time since 1908 that the Cubs might actually win the Series. (Footnote: Browne and Taylor played their second of two concerts on Aug. 3 at Fenway Park in Boston.)

At Wrigley, Taylor sang  “Fire and Rain,” one of the most magnificent songs ever written, about his friend Suzanne, whose suicide inspired this wondrous elegy, in the context of his own grueling battle with heroin addiction.

He sang “Sweet Baby James,” “Shower the People,” “Steamroller” and “Mexico” before giving me something to think about with “America the Beautiful.” He invited Browne to the stage for an encore; the two sang Browne’s “Doctor My Eyes.”

Taylor closed the show with his own fittingly sweet goodnight ode “You Can Close Your Eyes.” The 41,000-plus of us who populated sold-out Wrigley Field pounded toward the exits, most of us boarding the subway, where my mind continued to fixate on “America the Beautiful.”

***

Amid the clatter of the train as we returned to the downtown Hampton Inn, I chatted with a young woman who told me how much she loved Chicago, where, she said, she feels safe. “You have to know where you’re going,” she said.

It’s her kind of town, Chicago is.

She was warm, engaging and non-judgmentally curious about my hometown — Dallas — where I live with my wife and four sons. Everyone we met in Chicago was as friendly as that young woman.

And then we drove all the way to Cleveland, where I longed to see the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

I should tell you at this point that my wife and I were combining our several-states car trip with an informal book tour. Nancy Churnin, to whom I am married, is the author of a recently published children’s book, which is doing fantastically well. (Nancy even got a rave from The New York Times and from the great George Rede.)

[Editor’s note: Who am I to argue with the author’s adjective?]

MG amish

Outside of Cleveland, Mike and Nancy (the one without the bonnet!) helped a Pennsylvania-bound driver who was transporting a busload of Amish children by driving him to a restaurant where he could tell the kids and their parents that he was headed their way.

After checking out of our Cleveland-area hotel, we spotted a broken-down bus in the parking lot. Its poor driver was beside himself. He was transporting a busload of Amish children and their families back to their home in Pennsylvania.

Finally, the driver, who had driven all the way from Nashville, got his tire fixed. We helped him out by driving to a Red Lobster to tell the Amish kids and their parents that he was headed their way. That gave Nancy a chance to tell them about her book, which she never tires of doing.

“The William Hoy Story: How a Deaf Baseball Player Changed the Game” chronicles the life of William “Dummy” Hoy, who played in the 1800s and early 1900s and who may have been responsible for the hand signals that everyone now takes for granted.

The Amish kids seemed fascinated, enthralled, as kids everywhere tend to be about Nancy’s book. They were so cute! Not to mention incredibly friendly. Maybe Taylor is right, maybe it still is America the beautiful.

From the young woman on the subway to the Amish kids, I was being shown that it is, despite my raging cynicism.

At the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a spectacular building on the banks of Lake Erie, I met more friendly people, who love music as much as I do. There on the walls, I saw all my favorite musicians: Browne, Taylor, Simon and Garfunkel, Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt, the Eagles, Elvis Presley, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

So many musical greats came from Texas! Those in the hall include Stevie Ray Vaughan, who like me is a native of Dallas; Eagles’ great Don Henley, who lives in Dallas; and native son Steve Miller, a 2016 inductee who graduated from Dallas’ Woodrow Wilson High School.

MG niagara falls

Niagara Falls: “nothing less than amazing.”

From Cleveland, we drove to Buffalo, N.Y., and then in the improvisational chutzpah that only car vacations can produce, we drove all the way to Canada, where we stayed overnight and saw Niagara Falls, which is nothing less than amazing.

From there, we drove to the Catskills, where my wife and her Jewish family spent their treasured summer vacations, but not before stopping in Amherst, N.Y., where Nancy checked in at a Barnes & Noble bookstore. A sweet, young B&N saleswoman named Kaylee Willis took to the book instantly.

Again, America with its kindness was telling me it was beautiful.

Nancy, my brown-eyed girl, wept softly as she walked Thompsonville Road near Monticello, N.Y., remembering idyllic summers spent with her mom and dad, her grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins in the family’s Mountain View cottages. The Catskills are not what they used to be, but Nancy and I loved meeting a young Hasidic couple, who leave Brooklyn each year to spend their summers in the Catskills, just as her family did. Nancy saw a deer standing majestically on the same parcel of land where her grandparents had built their cottages and where their grandchildren played for years. The deer made Nancy feel better. These days, the land belongs to him.

MG woodstock

July 4 brought the opportunity to visit the grassy hillside where the Woodstock music festival unfurled over four days in 1969.

We celebrated July 4 by driving through the splendor of the Catskills to Bethel, N.Y., where the seminal Woodstock music festival was held in 1969, in August, the month I entered my senior year of high school. We strolled the grassy hillside where more than 400,000 people spent four historic days, awash in rain and mud, listening to the cacophony of Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Crosby, Stills and Nash and so many more.

But the best thing about stopping at the Woodstock site was getting to meet Rhoda and William Pollack, a couple from New Jersey. Two of the kindest people I’ve ever met.

On July 5, we saw a mama bear and two cubs scamper across the highway as we drove to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., where my wife would speak and where my all-time favorites appear in plaques on the wall: Mickey Mantle, Ernie Banks and the one who became my friend, the late great Tony Gwynn.

MG tony gwynn

Tony Gwynn is immortalized in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

Nancy got a super-charged confidence boost about her Hall appearance from Kerry Featherstone, who works the night shift at our hotel in Oneonta, N.Y. Kerry gave Nancy the best hair-do she’s ever had. Kerry asked for $10. We gave her $20. Kudos to Kerry, who radiates kindness.

The next day, Nancy spoke to a packed crowd at the Hall, sharing with them the incredible true story of the great Dummy Hoy. Kids by the dozen asked her questions and (thank goodness) begged their parents to buy the book (which they did). The next day, Nancy did readings of the book at two Manhattan libraries, one in Harlem, the other in a Dominican neighborhood. The kids reveled in the story, asking her to read it to them again and again and again.

I could almost hear Taylor singing “America the Beautiful” as I drove our rented Subaru Outback onto the Hudson Parkway and gazed at the Statue of Liberty in the distance.
When we went to bed that night, we felt peaceful, so serene, as though we had savored the most exquisite vacation we’d ever had. And then we turned on the television.

***

Back home in Dallas, a gunman had fatally shot five police officers during an otherwise peaceful Black Lives Matter protest.

Suddenly, it was hard to sleep, just as it was on the night of Friday, Nov. 22, 1963, when, as a 6th-grader, I struggled with the grim reality that earlier that day President John F. Kennedy had been slain in my hometown.

The new atrocity occurred only a few blocks east of where Kennedy was assassinated, taking with him to his grave so much idealism and hope. In my mind, America hasn’t been the same since 11/22/63. Much of its beauty died on a street in my hometown.

I was hardly surprised the next morning, when our editors called, asking me and Nancy to each write a story on deadline. The newsroom had entered one of those voracious all-hands-on-deck situations.

We extended checkout two hours, wrote our stories and began the 12-hour trek back to Chicago for the flight home. We got there a bit early and ordered two “very berry” hibiscus drinks at a Starbucks in Park Ridge, Ill., where we met Rob, one of the friendliest baristas you’ll ever meet. We talked about the Cubs, the Bears, the Rangers and the Cowboys. We joked about the Rangers and Cubs meeting up in the World Series. Hey, it could happen! We exchanged contact info. I hope he’ll visit Dallas, as he said he would.

And then Rob told us something we didn’t know — quaint, bucolic Park Ridge is the hometown of Hillary Clinton. We drove by the house where she spent her youth, the Methodist church she attended, the library where she loved to read and where she made a recent campaign stop at the historic Pickwick Theatre.

Rob was like all the other people we met on our amazing vacation — warm, friendly, someone you’d love to get to know, the kind of sweet soul who makes America beautiful.

Not once during our 12 days of summer did we meet a single unpleasant person.

Not once did anyone make an offensive comment when we announced where we lived, as a few nasty people did on a car trip to Colorado I’ll never forget months after Kennedy was gunned down in Dallas.

Not once did anyone make us think that Taylor is wrong, that America isn’t beautiful.

And yet, back home, five Dallas policemen lay dead, their homicides apparently triggered as a response to the grotesque epidemic of policemen using deadly force all too often. The resulting carnage has left black men dead in Louisiana, Minnesota and too many other American locales.

Since we returned, Dallas has been a city in mourning, and yet, we have shared many beautiful moments. Our recent memorial service at the Meyerson Symphony Center saw President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, former President George W. Bush and former first lady Laura Bush share the stage in a show of unity. A Dallas gospel singer named Gaye Arbuckle filled the Meyerson with the most soulful, healing music you’ll ever hear.

gaye arbuckle ap

Gaye Arbuckle performs during the July 12 interfaith memorial service for the fallen Dallas police officers. Among those gathered were Jill Biden, Vice President Joe Biden, Laura Bush, George W. Bush, Michelle Obama and President Barack Obama.

At the moment, Dallas is a city pulling together. But as President Obama said, we have seen far too much of this. It has to stop. It will remain America the beautiful, but only if we let it. There have been too many examples of a country whose problems are beginning to feel … overwhelming, insoluble.

Don’t confront us with our failures. We had not forgotten them.

But we must act on those failures as soon as possible. Or it won’t be America the Beautiful.

Nor will anyone remember when it was.

Dallas photograph: Susan Walsh, The Associated Press

***

Michael Granberry is an arts and feature writer and a Sunday arts columnist for The Dallas Morning News. He is working on a book about the founder and first owner of the Dallas Cowboys, Clint Murchison Jr. 

Editor’s note: Mike and I met as college students when we were summer interns at The Washington Post in 1973, when the Watergate investigation was at its height. He was a groomsman in our wedding; some 43 summers later, I’m honored to call him my friend — even though he’s from Texas. He’s a prodigious, immensely talented writer with a great sense of humor.

Tomorrow: Lillian Mongeau, Mile 17

All in for the Olympics

By Alana Cox
For me it started with Tonya Harding. I was 11 years old when Harding went to the Olympics in the wake of the attack on Nancy Kerrigan. She was an Oregonian like me, and I didn’t want to believe she could be responsible for attacking her opponent. It was the first time I remember closely watching the Olympics, and even though it didn’t turn out as I would have liked for my hometown skater, I was all in (for the Olympics, not for knee bashing, just to be clear).
tonya-harding

Who could believe anything bad about this hometown Olympian?

I have also always enjoyed a little casual patriotism, not for the way it divides people, but for the way it unites people. I love the moment where everyone at a baseball game takes off their hats and stops chatting and sings The Star Spangled Banner together. Most of all I love watching American athletes top a podium at the Olympics and bring home the gold.

I know both the Olympics and American patriotism are big nuanced concepts that a million think pieces have been written about. Patriotism can unite us with pride in the accomplishments of our people, but it is also used as a wedge. The Olympics are supposed to be where the world can watch its best athletes achieve their dreams, but it is an organization made up of people and billions of dollars, which means corruption is inevitable.

This year in particular, both love of country and love of the Olympics are being tested. The Olympics is shining a spotlight on Rio and making us all face the poverty and environmental challenges there. High profile drug scandals make us question the fairness of Olympics past and present, and the perfect storm of challenges, including the Zika virus, is leaving some athletes at home.

Meanwhile, America feels especially divided — by politics, race, class, generation, sex, religion… (and for that matter by the relative merits of Taylor Swift or Pokemon Go or Crossfit). It is my sincere hope that for a couple of weeks in August, we can be united by the accomplishments of our Olympic athletes. We won’t be rooting for the institutions of the Olympics or the American government, we will be rooting for athletes who made sacrifices — to their bodies, to their minds, to their finances — in order to achieve something for themselves and for Team USA.
Sydney_2000_US_Olympic_team

The 2000 Summer Olympics had it all: patriotism, pageantry, and jaunty hats.

I can see it now — Trump tweeting a selfie with Hillary at an Olympic gymnastics viewing party tagged with #TeamUSA.

Too much to ask for? Fine. I will settle for gathering with friends and family and having something to talk about other than presidential politics and big societal problems for a brief moment this summer.
alana-cox

Alana Cox

I hope this year’s Olympics won’t be a series of scandals punctuated by some footnoted medal counts. I hope it’s full of joy and pride and a little escapism. If you come to my house to watch the games, leave your pithy comments about my American flags being made in China at home, and let’s just relax for a minute. We should at least be able to appreciate the fact that athletes are achieving greatness at the pinnacle of their careers, and we get to watch at home on the couch and feel like we are a part of something exciting and positive.

I don’t know about you, but I need it this year.
Tonya Harding photograph: The Oregonian/OregonLive
 U.S. Olympic Team photo: Wikimedia Commons
***
Alana Cox is a public servant living in Salem, Oregon, with her husband Jason and kitty Orca. You can find her August 5-21 glued to the TV chanting U-S-A!  

 

Editor’s note: Alana is someone I’ve known since she was an infant. She is the middle child of our college buddies Tom and Elsa Guiney, who joined us in the mid-70s as we fled California for Oregon. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed seeing Alana move through the various phases of her life, including college, law school, the workplace and marriage.

Tomorrow: John Knapp, On with the show
 

 

Mount Tabor: A city treasure

tabor summit sky

At the summit of Mount Tabor, the sky seems bluer above these fir treetops.

I’ve got to admit it. I’ve been a fool.

Despite the dozens of the times I’ve run up to Mount Tabor and the surrounding neighborhoods, I don’t think I’d ever actually made it to the summit. What an incredible oversight.

It’s not that the elevation was intimidating. Heck, it’s only 636 feet to the top of this dormant volcano in Southeast Portland.

No, it was something else. I used to regularly run from my former residence in Grant Park to the northern entrance of Mount Tabor Park, typically veering left (south) and following a paved road on the east side of the park before turning around and heading back down. Other times, I’d run along the western and southern boundaries of the park en route to a more distant destination.

But never did I actually ascend any of the trails or even follow a paved road to the top of the peak. What a fool I’ve been.

This week, I finally did.

(Click on images to view captions.)

After a six-week layoff, I went out Tuesday afternoon on another of these urban hikes I’ve been doing since the year began. Through them, I’ve gotten some good exercise and learned a ton about Portland’s history and geography.

This week’s hike brought more of the same, courtesy of the book “Portland Hill Walks,” by Laura O. Foster.

Beginning at S.E. 60th Avenue and Stark Street, I followed a five-mile route that took me onto quiet, hilly streets north and east of the volcano, up onto the slopes and summit, and then down into a residential neighborhood west of the park.

As with so many previous hikes, I was treated to the sight of beautiful flowers, a variety of housing styles, and city views I hadn’t experienced before. Foster’s book not only provides a wealth of information about each geographic area of focus, but identifies several shortcuts that lead into nooks and crannies you’d miss otherwise.

Mount Tabor Park is, in Foster’s words, “a city treasure.”

According to Foster, Mount Tabor was settled at about the same time as Portland in the mid-19th century. Farmers were the primary residents until the 1880s, but then growth took off in 1889, when a trolley line ran up SE Belmont Street to a terminus at SE 69th Avenue, Foster writes.

In 1905, Mount Tabor was annexed to Portland. The park was acquired in 1909. Among its 190 acres, you’ll find three open reservoirs, which received National Historic Landmark status in 2004, along with a playground, an amphitheater, restrooms and wooded hiking trails. At the summit, there’s a grassy,  an oval-shaped area with picnic tables under tall fir trees and west-facing views of SE Hawthorne Boulevard and the downtown skyline.

There were clusters of people just about everywhere I went in the park — a young couple, asleep in each other’s arms on a blanket; a trio of teenagers having a picnic lunch; solitary hikers; a few bicyclists; groups of two and three taking selfies on the summit.

Yet it didn’t feel crowded, and I especially enjoyed the shade as I climbed the steepest of the dirt trails leading up the south side of the volcano.

Finishing off the walk on streets flanking the park’s west side, I realized yet again how fortunate I am to live in a city with so many desirable neighborhoods and so much parkland — more than 200 public parks and natural areas totaling more than 11,000 acres, according to the Portland Parks & Recreation Bureau.

Ain’t nowhere else I’d want to live.