Monday, November 21, 2011

Cocky with a camera.

The day dawned with the reluctance of a hung-over person getting ready for work.  No sick days left.  The Boss won't buy calling in dead.  So it's going to happen.  It has to happen.  The process will be long and drawn out.  Without grace or warmth but with an inevitability that comes from years of routine.  Rise and shine?  Rising, certainly, but shining?  Not so you'd notice.

Cold and gray pretty much sums up the journey Elvira and I experienced together.  Cold and gray.  The early morning.  The pavement.  The expression on the faces of the commuters.  Circumstances even seemed to conspire to fill the roads with gray vehicles.

Our destination was the NW district of Portland.  It's a place with its own character.  Or a lack thereof, depending on how you measure character.  

This is the kind of place where light meets darkness.  You might even say this is where heaven meets hell.

Someone more poetic than me might call this a "forgotten place".  A place where residents of little means are dumped and forgotten.  Where those with few resources are left to fend for themselves without outside help.  

At first glance it appears to be true.  Everything within these few square blocks is in a state of seedy decay.  People in shabby clothing with dejected faces pointed toward the sidewalk wander aimlessly among the buildings.  Progress is marked by unassuming signs above doorways.  The signs don't need to be flamboyant.  These are not tourist routes.  Drawing attention from the passing hordes is not the goal here.  There are no passing hordes in the first place.  In the second place, those who come here do so for a specific reason.  They know where places are.

The building signs give you a clue as to why someone would come here.  Inside these doors is a "gentlemen's club".  Down the way is a bar that advertises female impersonators.  On the next block is an adult shop.  The sign glows softly purple as it proclaims the presence of an arcade inside.

Burnside Street forms the southern boundary.  A few blocks south there is opulent luxury.  The fancy hotels where political bigwigs and business leaders stay.  On Burnside and Broadway is a building that once housed a Burger King fast food restaurant.  Years ago I used to watch officers of the Portland Police Mounted Patrol take their horses through the drive through.  Today the building is becoming a pile of crumbling bricks.  Once the bricks were red but now they're the color of age.  Darker, mottled, and much less vibrant.  The windows have been boarded up for so long that the wood seems to be sprouting twigs.

Interestingly, in stark contrast to the distressed patina of the building, the parking lot gleams with fancy cars.  From about lunchtime on people start filtering into the neighborhood.  This is a place where the heights of human morality come into contact with the depths of primal desires.  So called "pillars of the community" move furtively about while fervently hoping none of their neighbors or associates see them.  Even if that someone else is there for the same reason there's a deep seated shame at being caught out.  

I am comfortable here.  I have business here.  I do not care who sees me.  Other people's perceptions are their problem.  I also do not worry about the residents of this area.  Law enforcement and life have taught me that there are good and evil people in all economic levels.  I take people at face value until they reveal themselves by their actions.  I have wandered these kinds of places, neither friendly or fearful.  I will admit to perhaps being a bit cocky, though.

Many years ago a close friend at the sheriff's office gave me a belt buckle.  You see, I had a bit of a reputation.  My friend and partner's name was Clyde.  He and I worked some pretty tough areas.  We were very self assured.  Some of the other cops called it cocky.  I don't think it was that bad, but whatever.  Clyde was killed in the line of duty after I left the area.  Sometimes I wonder how it would have went had I still been there for him. I keep the belt buckle as a momento of our partnership.  Those kind of treasured relationships very rarely come along.  Here's what the belt buckle says:  

"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, cause I'm the meanest son-of-a-bitch in the valley."

My apologies to the women and children as well as to those who may take this as sacrilege.  Some people live more sheltered lives than others.  Some of us have lived hard and seen a lot of stuff we shouldn't have.  We tend to be more irreverent.

I am pulling myself reluctantly back from memories of old days to come back to the story.

This day I was not only cocky, but cocky with a camera.

There is a hotel / halfway house in the slow process of being renovated.  I've been offering my services as a consultant to some of the hardware and code issues.  This has required a trip about twice a month to look at the job.  Normally I park right in front as in the photo below.

These two guys were eating donuts and comparing notes on how their respective group therapy sessions had gone.  There's a lot of healing going on in this world.  It's sad that it looks like there will be a need for a lot more before this carnival ride is over.  The room with the donuts is hidden away.  Things have progressed to the point where I am now privy to this information so I can snag a couple of donuts for myself.  I'm not bashful about eating donuts.  Just ask Troubadour after this past weekend.

The photo above is from a previous visit.  This time I couldn't park anywhere near the building.  The parking spots were barricaded or had stuff in the way like this big truck.

Judging by the truck and other stuff there was something out of the ordinary going on. My guess was that some sort of TV or movie filming was happening. Portland has worked to attract this kind of thing.

By now the sun was starting to slightly penetrate the gray layer.  The warmth was a nice dessert on top of the donuts and bad coffee I had consumed in the hotel.  I had a bit of time on my hands.  I had a camera with plenty of interesting things to take photos of.  I was a bad-ass dude in a bad place.  If I hadn't already been me I'd of been wishing I were me.

Time to go see what I could see in these few blocks.
"Does anybody remember the color code to these wires?!"

These kind of brought me up short. Four of the cleanest and most gleaming outhouses I've ever seen.  

Alas, I guess I wasn't Hollywood enough to use them.  I can't tell you how much that pleases me, by the way.  I've never been a pretentious pisser. The blue tape strips clearly indicated these were for the film crew only.  Did they have drink holders inside?  Perhaps heated toilet seats?  Maybe even a valet that waits outside the door with a warm washcloth and towel.  

I've used a lot of outhouses in my time.  I still find the situation extremely funny to think about.  It's amazing the difference that very thin piece of opaque plastic makes.  Recently I saw an outhouse on a trailer in the freeway median.  It was for a road crew.  I had this mental picture of some guy using the outhouse, reading a newspaper and his hairy rear end hanging out.  Right in the middle of four lanes of busy freeway traffic.

I laughed so hard I almost fell off the bike.  Thank goodness for the privacy of plastic, eh?

Check out these boom mounted lights. Can you imagine having these hooked to your DLSR? "Smile and say cheese while I light you up with these babies!" I think the only thing in the photo would be the person's scattered atoms!

I think the funniest part of the little photo expedition was this security guard.  On another street was another truck.  There were about ten security guards placed around.  Each had a block long stretch of street to watch over.  For whatever reason I decided to blow a few megapixels worth of battery power on a shot down the street.  The photo wasn't too good but I didn't delete it on the spot.  Then I wandered down to the other end of the block to take a photo of the lights.

Take a look at the first photo and you'll see the security guard on the right.  

Check out who followed me and is giving me "the stare".

This guy looked to be fresh out his Mama's basement where he has a little apartment.  I can picture his Mama making his breakfast.  Three eggs over easy with the toast extra crispy, "Just the way my darling boy likes it."

She probably asked him if he remembered to brush his teeth before work while slicking down his cowlick and brushing a bit of lint off his jacket collar.  Beaming proudly because her boy finally got a job, she waves goodbye while wishing him a good day at work.

As I moved across the street to take the close-up photo of the lights, Junior met me halfway across the street. 

Weirdly enough, the first thing he asked me was if I was some sort of P.I.  I presumed he meant private investigator.  I looked quickly from side to side as if afraid somebody might overhear us.

"Shush," I said.  "All I can tell  you is that I'm not official, okay?"

"You guys and your secrecy", he replied.  I kid you not,  This is exactly how it went.

Then I moved closer to the lights and raised my camera.

"Hey!  We've been told to tell people not to take pictures", Junior informed me.

"Ok", I replied.  "You asked".  All the while setting up my shot.

"What does that mean?" he snapped back.

"Just that.  You asked.  I say 'First amendment and public streets'.  Now do you want to let me get about my business or do you still want to do the monkey dance?"  My answer and demeanor threw him off.  I don't think this was the way he imagined somebody would react to his "authority".  The guy had no idea he would meet somebody like me.  Cocky with a camera.

I thrust in for another parry while he was still staggered.

"How about those women over there with their cell phone cameras?  Are you going to go confiscate their phones?  What about that couple with the little kid?  Gonna go grab the point and shoot?  Actually, you see the kid looking at us?  I'll bet he's asking his mother why that man with the camera is making the security guy all red in the face."

I have got to really hand it to Junior.  Somehow, somewhere, he found a small scrap of dignity that he pulled up and waved like a battle flag.

"Ok, take your pictures.  But don't touch anything or I can arrest you on the spot!"

I waved as I walked off.  "You got it, Sir!"  I resisted the childish impulse to touch one of the lights as I left.  Bravely guarding a very short stretch of city street is hard enough without some cocky bastard totally crushing your cajones.

The exchange I just wrote about was very real.  What wasn't real was this cafe on the corner.  It was real enough to begin with. Once upon a time it had been an actual corner diner.  However, it's been vacant for a long time.  Filming was scheduled to start after dark so the day was filled with preparations.  This place was being transformed into the Mountainview Cafe.  

I was able to gather from this crew that the reason for all the activity was an episode of "Grimm".  The hope was to have it all done in two days but it was turning into three.  

I've seen the trailers for the TV series. Not my cup of tea, I'm afraid. I've seen enough evil in the world without having to watch demonic manifestations presented in the name of entertainment. It was fun exploring the set, though, I'll have to admit. I saddled up Elvira and took off for my next destination. In the process I found that the City of Portland has been busy creating a great hazard for motorcyclists in the name of mass transit. Stay tuned. 

 Miles and smiles, 



bobskoot said...


we have had our share of movie sets up here too. I have taken photos at some of them and often they tell you to stop taking photos. The trick is to get rid of the dSLR and use something more innocent looking. I don't think they have the authority to arrest you

Riding the Wet Coast

Anonymous said...

The hazard you refer to are the all the light rail tracks up and down MLK / Grand? Replete with swerves out of lane for stops and metal grates right before right turns across the track, they are something else - especially in the wet which is normal for much of the year.

SonjaM said...

Bob's right, we have film crews in and around the city all the time, too. Most of the movies/TV shows I have never heard of.

I remember having seen "Grimm" signs every once in a while around Portland, but I didn't connect the dots at that time. They must have been pointers to filming locations.

irondad said...

I hear what you're saying. I really do. It's just that I'm an in-your-face kind of person. I always feel like I'm sneaking around with the little camera.

Technically, anybody can make a citizen's arrest. Detaining the arrestee and making it stick is another matter!

Take care,


irondad said...


I really appreciate your commenting. It just feels so weird replying to "anonymous". I know it can be a pain to establish a google identity.

At the same time, I'd feel more connected if you care to leave a first name at the end of the comment.

Take care,


irondad said...


It seems odd that they would call attention to the filming site, thus inviting people to come get in the way.

They probably need the publicity since it's new to TV, I suppose.

Take care,


Geoff James said...

That's a wonderful piece of writing, I'm as impressed as heck. Also for your irreverence - a fellow traveller.

Oh, and as a student who had filled up with cheap beer, front gardens with flimsy hedges or similar venues were all wonderful conveniences. I was the sort of person I despise today :-)

Unknown said...

Anonymous about the tracks = Robert
Thanks for the great blog.

RichardM said...

There seems to be a lot of concern these days about what you can aim your camera at. It boils down to an expectation of privacy. If you are on a public street, you should have no expectation of privacy and I love your response to the rent-a-cop. What if it was city police? The confrontation at UC Davis is fresh in my mind....

Bryce said...

This sounds to be like another Grimm
fairy tale...

Charlie6 said...

Rent-a-cops....yep, self-important, overbearing and doing a thankless job with no authority or respect. Glad you didn't fully emasculate him Irondad....

As to the pictures, your initial verbal descriptions were so vivid, I thought you were going to do an entire posting without pictures!


Redleg's Rides

Colorado Motorcycle Travel Examiner

Allen Madding said...

kudos for assisting the rehabing of the halfway house.

rent-a-cops that puff out their chests always impress me. Kinda like a bantam rooster, Stick your foot out at him, shove his beak with the sole of your boot and boy does he get pissy :)


Troubadour said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve Williams said...

Cocky with a camera. That's funny. My hackles still raise when people tell me I can't take pictures in public. I'm amazed at the line of bullshit that comes out of people's mouth. I generally ignore it and smile.

Except for the time a Secret Service Agent grabbed me. Figured he had clout. I was moving too slow as the White House photo pool was exiting an event with GW Bush.

Steve Williams
Scooter in the Sticks

Lucky said...

I'm just going to go ahead and comment on the least important part of the story: That belt buckle kicks ass. I might have to steal that for this year's novel...

Also, that's the kind of thing that you can't buy for yourself - it has to be a gift, otherwise the wearer is just an asshole.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Irondad (Dan):

I am delighted that you are now gowing comfortable with being in the parts of the city where morality is shoved aside without a thought. I knew I would have this effect on you sooner or later.

And yes, I do have lights like that on my bike.

Merry CHristmas,
Twisted Roads

George Ferreira said...


George Ferreira said...

It's amazing, give them a badge and all of a sudden they think they can stop you from doing anything. You on a public street. You should have asked if you used a 400mm from the other side of the block if it would be okay ;-)

Jennifer Wright said...

Anonymous, Exactly! I really appreciate your commenting. It just feels so weird replying to "anonymous". I know it can be a pain to establish a google identity. At the same time, I'd feel more connected if you care to leave a first name at the end of the comment. Take care, Dan