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.

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?

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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.

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!)


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.

How Cities Are Getting Smarter

Portland Mayor Sam Adams believes his city will endure economic realities and environmental demands in the future with 20-minute neighborhoods.

You’ve seen those IBM commercials where a dozen experts or so from around the world speak of a “smarter city,” right? Maybe it speaks to my nerdiness, but I love those commercials because I love the idea of technology that can streamline the function and bundle the  infrastructure of the cities we live in.

Portland, Ore. is becoming an example of said smarter city. This month’s issue of The Atlantic features a fascinating interview with Mayor Sam Adams about the growing number of 20-minute neighborhoods in PDX. Lisa Camner defines these neighborhoods as, “One in which residents can walk or bike to places and services people visit on a daily basis: transit, shopping, quality food, school, parks, and entertainment. In the jargon of real estate development, these neighborhoods are “mixed use” because they provide diverse activities — living, shopping, working — in close proximity to one another.”

Eleven percent of Portland is made up of 20-minute neighborhoods. Ours is one. My girlfriend and I live across the street from a large grocery store, a block from a city park, three blocks from metro transit, and you’ll find some of the best restaurants and locally owned boutiques up and down 23rd Avenue, just five blocks away. There’s a sports stadium featuring minor league baseball and soccer just down the road, and to top it off, plenty of job opportunities, too. Our neighborhood — the Alphabet District — is like in island within a city. The only difference is we require no imports.

As my girlfriend said after I read her this article, “If I could work across the street, we’d never leave the neighborhood.” (She works for the same grocery store chain, only about 9 miles east of our apartment.)

Mayor Adams points on the 20-minute neighborhood is about more than just convenience, but also environmentalism and economy:

“For the city, the benefits are multiple. We’ll more readily meet our climate change goals because there will be less driving. On the individual side, households save energy costs and fuel. And, people who are walking and biking are going to be more fit. People healthier and insurance premiums go down. There’s less pollution. CEOs for Cities did a study and we already drive 20% less than comparably sized cities. We don’t have car companies here, we don’t have oil wells here, we don’t have car insurance companies here, so every dollar we don’t spend on something we don’t produce here is a dollar that stays in the economy. For us, based on 2005 figures, that’s about $800 million that stays in Portlanders’ pockets.”

How is this different from the suburbs? It’s all about location. On average, suburban commuters spend 24 percent of their annual income on transportation expenses, compared to just 16 percent for urban residents. Suburbs can maintain a similar autonomy, but the reality is 50 percent of Americans now live in U.S. cities, not just outside of.

Think about where you live, especially if you live in a major city. Could you get all of your needs met within a 20-minute walk or bike ride?

We Need to Socialize Public Restrooms

Portland might be winning the War on Drugs, but it’s completely undermining the War on Public Urination.

Here, just like in other metropolitan areas, I imagine, public restrooms are at a premium. Thanks to junkies who’ve abused the privilege over the years, most of the restrooms in Portland require you either a) purchase something from the store b) find someone to let you into the locked restroom and sometimes c) have a security guard. For instance, the Fred Meyer across the street has a security guy whose job, among other things, is to monitor the restroom.

This is America. We found a way to allow astronauts to go No. 2 in zero gravity. We put restrooms on airplanes! There must be a way public restrooms can exist in a city full of syringes and capsules.

The case in Portland is particularly desperate because of a few factors:

Need a drink? Find a Benson bubbler anywhere downtown. Need a restroom? That's crazy talk.

  1. There’s water everywhere. Between the Willamette River, Tom McCall Waterfront Park, the Salmon Street Fountain and, oh, I don’t know, the seemingly constant rain, it seems impossible to hold it in a city where free flowing water is part of the geology, infrastructure and climate.
  2. There’s public water fountains — Benson bubblers, they call them — located throughout downtown. So, you can stay hydrated and get yourself nice and water-logged, but good luck trying to find somewhere to relieve yourself. That’s putting kerosene on the fire.
  3. Downtown is where the beer is. And sure, you can use the restrooms at any establishment where you might be drinking, but if it’s a good jaunt home, you’ll start seeing mirages of Porta Potties. Suddenly, a dark alleyway won’t look so bad, and before you know it, you’re disgracing the Rose City.

What’s most grating is local businesses are completely justified for guarding their restrooms. There are a few public restrooms smattered alongside the river that have been used and abused. In most cases, if the toilet is a basketball hoop, the average field-goal percentage is about 54 percent. If you walk out without bleeding, catching a high or gagging, you’ve survived. You can’t be expected to run a business dealing with those types of conditions. Frankly, I would limit public access, too.

This could be the most elitist thing I’ve ever proposed, but bear with me. What if the city created public restrooms for downtown with keycard entry? To attain the keycard, you would need to be pay $15 per year and pass a drug test. The money from the keycard would go to the construction and upkeep of the restrooms, while the drug test would keep those more likely to abuse the restrooms from getting in.

Seriously, astronauts can safely defecate on space shuttles. You know that started with an idea crazier than mine!

Does anyone have any better ideas?

W-2 Wars: Return of the Tax

I read a story on Huffington Post this morning that affirmed something I already suspected to be true: The good people of Portland, despite being overwhelmingly liberal, hate taxes. They hate paying them and, apparently, they hate receiving them. This seems true of a lot of coastal cities, according to the map above.

When my W2 tax forms show up, I process them as soon as possible. That was the case again this year. I received my statements from my teaching assistantship back at Minnesota State University, Mankato and from my current job by mid-January. Twenty minutes on the H&R Block Web site and BOOM! $1,900 for Mr. Andrew Thomas Miller, a giddy, yet punctual tax-filer.

Thanks, America!

I’ve been quick with filing my taxes since I was 15 when I filed my first return. I didn’t even know such a thing was possible. I had worked half-a-year at a Hy-Vee in Sioux Falls, SD bagging groceries for $5.15/hour. My income couldn’t have topped $5,000, but I still remember getting that $300 return, which was promptly spent on a CD player for my 1992 Pontiac LeMans.

Since then, I’ve used my tax return to purchase: four golf season passes, golf clubs, a computer, a vacation to Tampa Bay and a handful of other over-the-top material goods I can’t even remember. That’s what I do with tax returns — I throw that cash back at the economy.

I’ve had the good fortune of not having to pay in just yet. That’s one of the few benefits of being at or below the poverty line. Things may be different this time next year, but as a young college graduate, it’s nice to have some padding in my savings account for once. Forget building a nest egg — I’m just gathering the twigs.

I’m shocked at how many of co-workers have yet to file their taxes. I’m talking about my peers with zero kids, modest income and little reason to believe they’ll be paying in. The process is so easy, too. I’ve used H&R Block for state and federal tax returns the past four years now because they keep your previous filings on record. That means no hauling around shoeboxes with your previous year’s income or record of your last return. It’s a smooth system, and each time I’ve filed, the money has been deposited in no more than a week, tops.

I’ve heard tax returns are a little sweeter than usual this year, too. I’m guessing that’s because of the Making Work Pay tax credit, which (as you can probably guess) rewards working Americans. I’m holding a bachelor of arts in English, so while I can actually read the MWP tax credit, I can’t tell you what it means. The mere sight of numbers makes me anxious. Read the link above for yourself.

The map above indicates the good people of the Midwest — my people — don’t mess around when it comes to filing taxes. Where I come from, if the government’s trying to give you money (even if it’s yours), you don’t make a fuss. You fill out the paperwork and claim that shit post-haste. What’s the matter with you, Portlanders? It’s not like the cost of tofurkey and Odwalla is getting any cheaper.

Literary Benches

The MAX stop near PGE Park where I board my train every morning features several benches in the shape of punctuation marks. At first, it seems a little odd looking at bench shaped like an exclamation point. It’s as if the bench is making a very loud statement. Over time, I’ve come to look at the benches in a different light:

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A Clean Well-Lighted Place

I’ve been limited to my iPhone since moving to Portland, but when I get Internet set up and my bags unpacked, I feel like I’m going to have plenty to write about. So far, Portland has been inspiring to say the least.

Much of our apartment is consumed by still-packed bags and the remains of Ikea boxes. The goal was to make this place feel like “home” as soon as possible. Our efforts have been stalled by ungodly heat and lack of air-conditioning.

Here is what I am happy to report: As a writer, you’re always looking for a great space to right. For some, it’s a coffee shop or a little street cafe. I prefer writing in private, though. As it turns out, the corners of our bedroom is free and all I can think about is finding the right desk upon which I might write – God forbid – something of substance.

The biggest indicator moving was the best thing for me is that I’m back to thinking about writing when I’m not doing it. I see people downtown and think about how I would describe their appearance and mannerisms. I’m back to observational humor and I keep thinking up comic routines that could translate to paper. Portland is nothing if not am environment that fosters creativity. That’s perfect coming from a place where anything weird or different is considered risqué.

I wish I had my laptop but bundling ideas might be the best thing for now. I plan on including more pics and video in future posts. There’s a lot to share here.

I just want to say it feels so good being lost in a new city, surrounded by weird people with wild ideas.