His Name Was Colin — Here Are His Papers

It’s finally here! Well, almost. Portlandia, the new short-form comedy series on IFC debuts tomorrow night. However, the first episode has been posted on YouTube – fo’ free!

(The first episode was pulled from YouTube yesterday. Sorry.)

You won’t have to travel far on this here blog to happen upon my love-hate relationship with Portland. Just when I was starting to miss ol’ Stumptown — the coffee, the rain, the bridges — Portlandia smacked me back into reality, reminding me of all the goofballs and poseurs who damn near drove me berserk.

How Metro Transit Can Boost Its Public Image

Metro Transit needs to aggressively position itself as an alternative to driving.

I came this close to balking on my New Year’s Eve plans this year for fear of getting safely to and from downtown Minneapolis.

I wasn’t about to spend $60 on a cab. (That’s what the neighbors above me paid.) I wasn’t going to have just a few drinks and chance driving home. Walking was out of the question, because it was godawful outside. So, how did we manage to go on with plans?

Public transportation — the forgotten ride.

After using public transportation almost daily in Portland, Friday night was the first time in six months I’d relied on Metro Transit. I drove downtown and parked at my office, where my girlfriend and I rode two miles to our destination for $1.00. Around 1:10 a.m., we hopped on another bus to catch a ride home. That was just $3.50. I cheated by leaving my car downtown, but I spent just $4.50 to get around town on New Year’s Eve. That’s ludicrous. You’d be lucky to find a bottle of beer for that much.

I’m working with a small sample size here, but my initial bus ride wasn’t the most pleasant. A group of teenagers piled up in the back and spent the ride shouting profanity, belting R&B songs and taunting the bus driver. Several other passengers yelped into their cell phones. The bus driver never once acknowledged the behavior. It made for an uncomfortable experience, but again, it probably wasn’t indicative of the average bus ride in Minneapolis.

It made me think about local attitudes regarding public transportation. We’re blessed to live in the land of parking lots, so for anyone with a car, you can drive just about anywhere. Buses are generally seen as transportation for those without a vehicle of their own. For a public transportation system to be great, that attitude has to change.

But, how does it change?

There were some similarly unsavory rides in Portland, but there was great self-policing among passengers and TriMet — the local governing body — included signage in every bus and light-rail car to outline proper rider etiquette. On top of that, drivers and conductors were quick to remove unruly passengers who were ruining the experience for others.

And that’s what Metro Transit needs to focus on — the experience. Riders should feel safe, enjoy the quiet, and worry simply about when to get on and when to get off. Buses and light-rail services should be seen as a convenient, affordable, stress-free alternative to driving for those who wouldn’t otherwise ride. That’s how Metro Transit ups ridership — by being viewed as an alternative, not a last resort.

I can’t say when I’ll use Metro Transit again. I’m lucky to avoid the major highways during rush hours, but I’m all for taking a bus to and from downtown on nights my girlfriend and I want to go out. I would encourage any Twin Citizen to do the same.

Portlandia: Portland Dream of the ’90s Video

This is exactly what I was writing about. Portlandia is a six-part original comedy short series premieres on IFC on Friday, January 21. I’m counting on creators Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein to nail the same absurdity that ran rampant while I was there.

I Didn’t Almost Die in the Portland Terror Plot. Neither Did You

Captain Jonathan Sassman, of the Corvallis Police Department, examines fire damage at the mosque where Mohamed Osman Mohamud worshipped while a student at Oregon State.

Over the weekend, I had this urge to write about the foiled terrorist plot in Portland, Ore. In case you’ve been stuck in a five-day tryptophan-induced coma, the FBI arrested Mohamed Osman Mohamud on Friday after he attempted to detonate a car bomb nearby Pioneer Courthouse Square, where a mass had gathered for the annual Christmas tree lighting.

The catch: Mohamud’s explosives were fake. They were supplied by the FBI as part of an undercover operation dating back to August 2009. Feds swooped in to make the arrest after Mohamud dialed a cell number to detonate the explosives.

My first impulse was similar to anyone who lived and worked near Ground Zero on 9/11 or anyone who regularly used the 35-W bridge in Minneapolis prior to its collapse. I wanted to write about the what-ifs.

What if I had never moved and Beth and I had stayed in Portland over Thanksgiving and decided to se the Christmas tree lit? What if I had been on the MAX, passing by Pioneer Courthouse Square just as Mohamud’s car bomb exploded? What if I had friends and co-workers who were there? What if?

None of that matters. We can’t let it. The moment we start to ponder the hypothetical and let it affect our lifestyle, the terrorists have won.

All that matters is what did happen. Mohamud had been on the FBI’s radar for over a year, under careful surveillance, and no one in Portland was ever truly in danger, especially on Friday. Mohamud provided the smoking gun when he attempted to detonate the explosives, and and unless Mohamud’s public defender can successfully argue entrapment, I’m sure we’ll see a speedy trial resulting in a lifetime prison sentence.

Here’s something that absolutely did happen. On Sunday, there was an actual terrorist attack. An arsonist set fire to the Salman Alfarisi Islamic Center in Corvallis, which is 80 miles south of Portland. Mohamud occasionally attended the mosque while a student at Oregon State University. The fire was discovered in time to save the mosque, but an administrative office was severely damaged.

That’s what the War on Terror has brought us to, apparently — burning places of worship. Again, we’re letting the terrorists win.

I’m so sick of arguing with anyone who unequivocally paints all Muslims as terrorists. There are nearly 1.57 billion people on this planet who are Muslims. Not only is it stupid and unjustifiable to claim nearly 23 percent of the world’s population partakes in terrorist activity — it’s irresponsible.

And we need to quit thinking about all the times we almost died, when, as with any car accident or house fire or natural disaster, time and place dictated otherwise. It simply didn’t happen.

Maybe we had been in Lower Manhattan an hour before 9/11 or we had taken the 35-W bridge to work that day. Maybe we sold a car that was involved in a wreck the next day or we’d been in a hotel that caught fire right after we checked out or we just returned from a vacation in the Cayman Islands before a Category 4 hurricane came barreling through. It’s so plainly human to latch onto our mortality whenever it comes into question. (Read: My post from yesterday.)

Ultimately, two things matter: What happened and what didn’t. The almosts aren’t even worth entertaining.

What’s It Like Living in Portland, Oregon?

Four months ago, my girlfriend and I moved away from Portland, Ore. It was an easy decision at the time, but I’m getting to the point where I sort of miss it. Sort of.

Here’s the definitive Portland YouTube clip. (It’s actually pretty compelling. I mean, if I hadn’t lived there, this would pique my interest.)

Mug Shot Sites — Law Enforcement or Entertainment?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Meet your newest Internet addiction — www.thepotshot.com.

You’ve seen those Just Busted magazines on convenience store counters? Each issue contains hundreds of mug shots with a short back story. The publications have received criticism because mug shots hardly tell the whole story and, in some cases, the accused may be found not guilty. But still, they’re entertaining.

The Pot Shot is in the same vein, except it’s much cruder and it includes personal photos alongside the mug shots. The website’s author goes by the pseudonym Trey Starrs and he’s come taken some heat for the site’s harsh treatment of criminal offenders.

Everything about the site is legal. Starrs shares public information, including height, weight, arresting agency, booking date and charges. However, Starrs also provides commentary that can go a bit overboard. For instance, in one post regarding a Portland woman arrested for hindering prosecution, Trey writes:

“Obviously Sherrie got caught covering for her boyfriend’s crimes but I honestly could care less about that. I just need to know more about that awe-inspiring Ginger mullet. I want to be near it, so I can bask in all of its gloriousness. I bet Sherrie has to spend hours each morning taming that wild mullet to the perfection that is on display in this mugshot. I’ve never actually made love to hair before but if it’s going to happen in my lifetime, it will be with Sherrie’s. If I were the King of Sweden, I would proudly wear this mullet as my crown.”

Let’s not get lost in the adjectives. Vile, insensitive, childish, defamatory, sophomoric. They all fit, sure, but most importantly, they all equate to one thing: Ridicule. At it’s core, The Pot Shot is about placing the village thief before the townspeople for a round of public ridicule. Any part of me that wants to feel sympathy for those targeted by The Pot Shot is persuaded otherwise by the fact these are people who knowingly broke the law. Perhaps society needs more negative reinforcement.

(I think my inner-liberal just died.)

Look, I can’t defend The Pot Shot’s lowbrow tactics. KOIN Local 6, the Portland CBS affiliate, is attempting to interview residents who’ve been featured on the site. Mr. Starrs has appeared on the local independent radio station PDX.FM. There’s a buzz around this site, but there should also be a discussion surrounding its value. At its core, The Pot Shot exists to deter crime. Right? Then again, the justice system and due process exist with the intent of maintain a dignity, no matter how woefully indignant the criminal.

What are you thoughts? Does a site like The Pot Shot help or hurt the legal process?

UPDATED: I won’t say who, but recently, I recognized a young woman charged with DUI whose mug was posted on The Pot Shot. The crazy thing? I recognized her from Mankato, Minn., where I used to tend bar and she used to routinely get booted for excessive intoxication. Looks like she brought her show on the road out to Portland and got caught for same old shenanigans.

Portland’s the Setting for New Comedy

Fred Armisen will star in Portlandia as a punk-rock chick. (So Portland.)

While I’m still detoxing from the 11 months I lived in Portland, I’m happy to see the city is making something of itself — providing the backdrop for a new sketch comedy called Portlandia, coming soon to cable network IFC.

Portland is a city full of archetypal weirdos, broadly painted with the hipster stroke. Under that umbrella, you can go anywhere, and Portlandia plans to. According to The Oregonian, “characters include the owners of a feminist book store, a militant bike messenger and a punk-rock couple (Fred Armisen plays the woman in the couple; Carrie Brownstein plays the man).”

Sounds authentic to me.

My hope is the show nails down Portland’s contrived counterculture, but also romanticizes some of its better aspects, like the omnipresent coffee shops, Powell’s World of Books and the food carts. As for all-vegan menus, Portland Timbers soccer and  provincial microbrew drinkers — it’s open season. Have at’em.

___

You know how I waxed poetic about Target Field yesterday? I entered to win four tickets for last night’s Twins-White Sox game through a local pizza shop, but a co-worker won instead. What did I miss? What some local sportswriters are calling The Shot Heard ‘Round the Warehouse District:

Of course, it’s even better watching the White Sox’s broadcasters go silent.

Very exciting sports day in Minneapolis yesterday. Today, Brett Favre is expected to announce he’s coming back to the Minnesota Vikings for another season. I’ll be on Nashville SportsRadio WNSR-AM with Jeff Thurn on Sports Xtra at 6:30 CDT. You can listen here.

On My Last Day Living in Portland

This is an arbitrary picture of Minneapolis. Because I'm moving to Minneapolis.

Today’s my last day living in Portland. My girlfriend and I push off tomorrow around 6 a.m.

A friend recently asked, “When you leave Portland, will you wave goodbye or give it the middle finger?”

Good thing I’ve got two hands.

Around spring last year, I began to romanticize Portland as place where I might be inspired. It seemed like a good thing to say about moving to a new place. We all want inspiration, I suppose. My mistake was assuming it came from a place.

I left home.

“Home” was a rather vague notion until around January, when my girlfriend and I returned to Portland after spending the holidays with friends and family. I remember feeling this intense emptiness when we made it back to our apartment. It was pretty obvious at that point we needed to leave Portland.

I’ve never lived in Minneapolis. I’ve been there several dozen times. I remember being a kid and going to Twins games with my family. I would spend the night before fighting off sleep by thinking about the tall buildings, the chance of seeing a Twin or Viking on the street, the rush of a big city. Since then, I’ve been to nearly every major city in the country, even took the time to live in one, and when that emptiness hit in January, it seemed Minneapolis was the most logical place for us to go. A place we could make our home.

Minneapolis puts us within a four-hour drive of the homes Beth and I grew up in. It puts us within a hour-and-a-half of our college town, where we first met and started dating. Most of our friends live in South Dakota and Minnesota. As places go, that’s all we could ask for.

I don’t expect Minneapolis to inspire me. In the past 11 months, I learned places can’t inspire me like people do.

I know myself well enough to know I won’t be emotional today during my last day of work or tomorrow, when we hit I-84 East. I don’t respond to these things emotionally. A little while back, my company gave us a personality test. I learned I was a “green” – someone who’s analytical above all else. I imagine I’ll spend more time the next few days thinking about what the past 11 months meant. Do they deserve a middle finger or a wave goodbye?

We’re moving to a great place nearby great friends in a great city and I’ve got a great internship waiting for me on the other hand. Minneapolis couldn’t be more inviting. Portland was accomodating, but I never took my shoes off and allowed myself to get comfortable. That’s my fault. But you know what? It’s the best mistake I’ve ever made.

At least now I know what home is.

A Few Things I’ll Miss About Portland

I’ve used this blog to rather bluntly portray my sordid relationship with the City of Portland, but the past week or so has really softened me up to its redeeming qualities. You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone, right?

When we put PDX in our rearview next Friday, I imagine these are the things I will miss most:

The Coffee

Seattle gets all the attention — founding Starbucks will do that — but Portland is no schlub in the category of quality java. Stumptown is king once you get past the hipster baristas and painfully simple menu. (Think you hate all the options at Starbucks? Trust me — you’d feel confined ordering off Stumptown’s menu.) I became a big fan of City Coffee, which offered free refills on drip. In Portland, you’re never forced to go more than a block or two to get a good cup of joe.

Powell’s City of Books

I don’t mean to turn my nose up at Barnes & Noble — where I’m still a member — but this particular bookstore eight blocks from our apartment boasts over one million books, making it the world’s largest independent bookstore. I don’t remember once going there and not finding the title I was looking for. Plus, it’s a haven for collectors. There’s regular author appearances, and afterward, the store sells signed copies of books without additional mark-up. (I was able to score Joshua Ferris’ The Unnamed recently for just $22. Boom!)

TriMet

True, I can’t wait to get back to driving to work. However, Portland maintains one of the smartest public transportation systems in the country and you can get just about anywhere in town on the cheap. I could’ve gotten by without my car here. Damn you, three-year lease.

Fat Kid Weather

That’s what my good friend Joel calls mild weather. (He’s a 305-pound strength athlete.) I look forward to sunshine and blazing hot summer days, don’t get me wrong. But I sweat. A lot. And here, I’ve been able to wear corduroys and button-ups while biking to work without looking like Evander Holyfield after eight rounds. I’m sure I’ll lament Portland winters when it’s (-23) in Minneapolis and the whole city has frozen through.

Varying Topography

A native of flat-ass South Dakota, I’ve appreciated the Cascade Mountains on the horizon. Just yesterday, Mount Hood, Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens were all visible from my eighth-story office window. We never took the time to go skiing or snowboarding, but in Portland, you always feel like you live just off the border of a Bob Ross painting. (So many friendly little trees.)

____

Yeah, the list could go on, but it’s not next Friday yet. And Portland is still so Portland.

A Moving Experience: Surviving Craigslist

The Net instilled in me a healthy sense of paranoia when it comes to meeting and selling to strangers on the Internet. Also, this flick should've gotten Sandra an Oscar.

My girlfriend and I sold our first items on Craigslist yesterday. For $70, a woman named Fayth and her partner purchased our pub table and two high back stools. That’s not even the good news, though.

Beth was conveniently at work, so I was left alone to carry out the transaction. The good news is I wasn’t brutally murdered.

After all the luck I had last week, I was about due for something to go terribly wrong. Through a series of e-mails Monday morning, it was decided this Fayth — her name, ironic, considering my lack thereof  — would purchase our table and stools and not leave me bloodied on the floor of my apartment. (The latter detail wasn’t actually discussed.)

I spent most of the day anxious, planning every detail of our transaction so I wouldn’t be left vulnerable. (Thanks, The Wire.) I would hide my computer, my iPod, my Flip Ultra HD, wallet, iPhone and so forth. I would not allow anyone in our apartment left unattended. I would get the cash first, check for signs of counterfeiting and insist the transaction take place in the middle of our high-traffic neighborhood. I would wear my running shoes and bring a whistle, in case Fayth and her cronie(s) somehow made off with my furniture without paying.

None of this planning was necessary, of course. Everything went fine. They never even entered our apartment building. They offered the cash right away. They were downright pleasant, and not homicidal maniacs in need of a table set.

You’ve heard stories. Hell, you’ve been on Craigslist. You know how people can be given the cloak of anonymity. Craigslist takes us back to the paranoid mid-1990s, the early days of the Internet’s everyday usage , where in movies like The Net, we learned any fragment of personal information can put you in grave danger where your only defense is Dennis Miller and his needlessly obscure jokes:

The table and stools were small pot. We’re upping the ante today by selling a white sofa. This bad boy, priced to move at $225, has received several shady inquiries involving international money orders, personal checks that “may not clear until next Monday,” as one potential customer put it, and a few other off-the-wall requests requiring unnecessary personal information. Here’s my favorite inquiry yet:

We politely declined his offer. (Lovely name, by the way. Apparently his parents were typos.)

At 7 p.m. tonight, we’ve got someone serious about viewing the couch. Although yesterday went fine, I’m waiting for Beth to get home before carrying out this transaction. I’ll insist she have 911 up on her phone so all she has to do is hit send. In this economy, you never know what people will do for an uncomfortable IKEA loveseat.