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April 9th, 2008 Ethan Smith | Featured Stories
 

Kvetch Fest

27 things we hate about the city we love.

     
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Portland is booming.

Out-of-staters swarm here for their own slice of our progressive, probably vegan pie.

And the national media dotes on our city like all 550,000 of us have a stash of compromising photos featuring them in an orgy with farm animals.

It’s our food, our art, our music, our politics and our sustainability that draw praise and busloads of gawking yokels to this little city. But more than that, it’s the general warm feeling that swells through the limbs when one walks Portland’s streets.

We must crush that warmth.

That’s because for most Portlanders, this popularity boom has been bad news. The flood of transplants clawing at our utopia drives up our rents, crowds our restaurants and competes for our jobs. Portland is on course to become the next San Francisco: a paradise no one can afford. This city has marketed itself right into a corner. It’s time to blacken Portland’s image a bit, for its own good.

If you love Portland, hate on it.

Enter “Kvetchfest,” one man’s annual series of bitter, petty, pessimistic rants that generally shit on everything—and hopefully poke holes in the Portland hype. Of course, Kvetchfest alone can’t turn away the advancing hordes from California and beyond. But it’s a start. If we all band together for a little self-hatred, maybe we can persuade prospective Portlanders not to crowd out our way of life for a little longer.

To that end, this issue contains a bright red page that reads “Kvetch This.” Cut it out and stick it to things in Portland that you hate. Then snap a photo—or make a video link—and send it to us at kvetch@wweek.com. We’ll post the good ones on this page, and in so doing hopefully save our village by destroying it.

Let the gripes begin.

“On the Go With Joe”: Each weekday starting at 4:30 am, Joe Vithayathil brings his forced smile, wide, nervous eyes and utterly patronizing tone to family-friendly attractions around Oregon. This sad excuse for local news is “On the Go With Joe,” the human-interest segment of KPTV-12’s morning show, Good Day Oregon. As if waking up to Joe V.’s manic presence weren’t jarring enough, KPTV has an unnerving habit of cutting straight from hard news—say, the latest Iraq casualities or a murder-suicide in Troutdale—to Joe pointing his shit-eating grin at a four-story water slide or a pie-eating contest. To be fair, a lot of Troutdale murder-suicides happen at pie-eating contests.

Cheesy Thai restaurant names: Many are the reasons to complain about Portland’s Thai restaurants. One, there are too many: A quick search of dexonline.com yielded no fewer than 42 with Portland addresses. Two, it’s rare to find a Thai joint actually run by Thais: More often owners are either tofu-loving white people or immigrants from Southeast Asian countries with less marketable cuisines who are pandering to, well, tofu-loving white people. Three, ketchup makes regular appearances in Portland’s pad Thai, mostly thanks—once again—to the tastes and influence of tofu-loving white people. But we could swallow these ubiquitous, tomatoey, Americanized fried noodles if it weren’t for the sickeningly cutesy plays on the word “Thai.” Portland features, among others, Thai Noon, My Thai, Mai Thai, Appethaizing, Typhoon! and, in a tie for worst, Thai Pod (cringe) and Beau Thai—a pun in Thai and French that makes sense only in English. The name manages to disgrace three languages in just two words. Diabolical.

Lakers fans at Trail Blazers Games: You can take the douchebag out of L.A., but you can’t take L.A. out of the douchebag. Need proof? Next time the Lakers come to town, go watch the convoy of Hummer H2s converge on the Rose Garden and vomit out Jack Nicholson’s retarded cousins: guys with slicked-back hair, leather jackets and kanji tattoos, wearing wrap-around shades indoors and standing up to chant “M-V-P!” every time Kobe goes to the line. Thankfully, the turnout has lessened slightly since the Kobe sex scandal in 2003. Not that these assholes are turned off by adultery—they were just disappointed to find out Kobe’s not as into date rape as they are.

Neighborhood nicknames: This ugly trend can be traced to a back room full of scheming, condo-building assholes who plucked “Pearl District” out of thin air because it sounded marketable. Now cute aliases infect every improving area of Portland. NoPo (North Portland), SoWa (South Waterfront), LoBu (Lower Burnside)…the list goes on. Maybe the cash-happy out-of-towners inflating our rent like these obnoxious abbreviations because they’re easy to text. As in, “omg u hav 2 c my new condo in sowa its 2 nice 4 locals lol.” Next time Portland needs to nickname a neighborhood, let’s just call it what it is: the latest neighborhood you can’t afford to live in.

“I write for a blog” pick-up lines: So wrong for so many reasons. Wrong because it was actually overheard—clearly being used as an icebreaker—from a ginger-bearded hobo impersonator near Northeast Alberta Street. Wrong because no one should even think that taking a break from torrenting porn in order to rant obsessively on the Internet will impress girls. Wrong because “blogger” is the least-sexy title ever invented. And wrong because “writing for a blog” is not impressive; all it takes is a MySpace page and the wish to give unsolicited opinions to strangers. Whatever happened to “Come here often?” Or, “Nice tits. I got a van outside”?

Annual plea for Sandy River lifeguards: Every summer, some drunken redneck drowns in the Sandy River, and local hand-wringers blame it on a lack of lifeguards. The poor bastards who drown—rest their sloppy, Larry the Cable Guy-loving souls—don’t need lifeguards. They need high-school diplomas, shirts with sleeves, and the sense not to pound a case of Natural Ice and toss themselves off 30-foot cliffs into unscouted depths.

Kvetchfest: What’s funny, catchy and easily identifiable? Yiddish! Hence this story’s goddamn title, shoved down my throat by the Sudafed-hoarding Willamette Week editors. What kind of grown-ups work for an alt-weekly, anyway? I’ll tell you what: [censored for reader protection].

The word “edgy”: Whenever this adjective comes out of someone’s mouth—as in “Kvetchfest is so edgy”—I expect it to be followed shortly by the “hardcore” hand sign and a yell of “Bling bling!”

The cost of pasta: Somehow a plate of noodles and tomato sauce—the food college kids eat when they’ve blown their last 20 on a dub sack—can rarely be found at Portland restaurants for less than $10. Yet $4.95 and a Safeway Club card can stuff a houseful of red-eyed Family Guy addicts with spaghetti. And before you restaurateurs start shouting about hidden costs and bottom lines, go fight the dinnertime lines at La Buca, one of Portland’s few cheap pasta champions. So, to the rest of you Portland Italian restaurants: Stop profiteering off carb-starved reggae fans and start dropping the price of a plate of pasta into the single digits.

Well-dressed panhandlers: If you’re going to beg for change at an intersection, look like you need it. If you sleep outside and wear a Gore-Tex jacket, you’re not homeless. You’re camping.


Washed-up pols growing beards: Bill Richardson is the latest example of this disturbing trend. The New Mexico governor, foiled presidential candidate and Clinton deserter sported a jail pussy when he endorsed Barack Obama for president at Obama’s Portland rally last month. But Richardson isn’t the first pol to adopt what we’re calling “the guidance counselor.” That honor goes to Al Gore (right under the “invented the Internet” line, we’re sure, on his résumé). Sloppy in the wake of his Nobel Prize, Gore’s been growing out his Tipper-tickler as if his Gillette Mach 3 runs on fossil fuels. And it’s not just aging Clinton flunkies hiding their extra chins. Portland’s own Tom “Am I Still Mayor?” Potter is getting scruffier by the day. In this era of carefully crafted public images and focus-grouped power ties, every detail of a politician’s appearance is tailored to send a message to voters. So, what do these beards tell us? Richardson’s says, “Do you think Hillary will still recognize me? Christ, I’m terrified of her.” Gore’s says, “Remember how I saved the world? Say something. I dare you.” And Potter’s says, “All I’m visioning these days is a 12-pack of Michelob and my Boy Meets World DVDs.”

The downtown bar scene: Despite being in the heart of Portland, the knot of pubs and clubs around Southwest 2nd Avenue and Burnside no longer serves Portlanders. On weekends the entire area reeks of Axe body spray, as it’s overrun by Jäger-slurping ex-frat boys from the suburbs. Kells is a decent bar during the week, but all you see on Saturday is fake-’n’-bake blondes dripping lip gloss and gym rats from McMinnville who wear Red Sox caps and talk about the Curse of the Bambino like they don’t have a Derek Jeter jersey at home. Gel-happy metrosexuals cruise the Greek Cusina, telling everyone, “I’m not gay. I know I’m wearing flared jeans. You wanna fight?” At the end of the night the whole ugly crew piles into a fleet of Chevy Tahoes and Dodge Magnums, turns up the Toby Keith, and swerves back to cul-de-sacs of aluminum siding in Tigard to talk about how much they love “the city”—except for all its weirdos on bikes and disquieting lack of Red Robin franchises.

McMenamins: McMenamins does a lot right. It transforms historic ruins into surreal hotels and rambling estates. It shows cheap, second-run movies that can be watched from comfortable thrift-store couches. It books great concerts indoors and out. It builds bars in crematoriums and throws keggers in old gymnasiums. But the homegrown brewpub chain does two critical things wrong: food and beer. Somehow McMenamins manages to hand-paint smirking rabbits and psychedelic moonmen on every joint of exposed plumbing but can’t grill a decent burger or brew a solid IPA.

Blumenauer’s bow tie: When Obama (or, as we’re calling him, JFK X) held his most recent rally, he was received like a sainted rock star from outer space. We threw our panties while sobbing with joy. Face it—the guy farts hope. And yet one of Oregon’s own congressmen—and head of the Oregon for Obama campaign—Rep. Earl Blumenauer may have singlehandedly killed Obama’s White House chances by wearing a bow tie. If you don’t see the political pitfall, you’re not thinking like a Fox News pundit. Put on your O’Reilly pants (the racist ones with adult-bookstore receipts in the pockets) and pay attention. Jeremiah Wright is Obama’s former pastor. He said rich white people run America and war is bad, which, though true, are also apparently racist and anti-American statements. Obama managed to deflect the taint of Rev. Wright with a truly heroic speech on America’s race relations. But Wright’s wrongs don’t end at the sound bites. Last year, the preacherman gave his church’s Trumpeter award to Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, a man whose credentials as a militant racist far outpace Wright’s own. Get ready now, we’re coming full circle: Farrakhan’s favored neckwear is, say it with me, the bow tie. A little creative editing, a dash of Hannity, a couple painkiller-infused Limbaugh follicles, stir well, and SHABAZZ! Obama is a terrorist. Do it for Barack: Change the neckwear, Earl.

The ever-growing non-hetero acronym: LBGT…Q?...hmm…did we already say B?...is there a dollar sign in there somewhere? We’re not homophobic—we’re not even sure which letters homophobia applies to—but this acronym is out of hand. A good, memorable abbreviation should have four letters or fewer. How about just “Misc.”?

Grand Central Bowl: Bowling alleys are supposed to be seedy. The rental shoes are supposed to smell weird. You’re supposed to drink rotgut well drinks and eat Tater Tots that went straight from freezer to deep fat fryer. The owners are supposed to be lumpy, middle-aged men named Lenny with hacking coughs. But at Southeast’s new, swankified Grand Central Bowl, meatheads man velvet ropes, sushi shows up on the menu, bartenders muddle, and the crowd has that same desperately cool leather-jacket-and-$100-jeans look native to the Doug Fir. It’s uglier than Lenny ever could be.

Washington drivers on the Fremont Bridge: Anyone who regularly exits the Fremont Bridge to North Kerby Avenue during rush hour knows and despises these invaders from the north. They cruise innocently down the far-right exit-only lane, past the gridlock on their left that waits to merge onto I-5 North. Only pale blue Washington license plates hint at their sinister intent. Just as they reach the exit-ramp junction and you dare to hope they’re actually getting off, these vile Washingtonians slam on their brakes, flip on their turn signals and begin to force their way over a lane, pinning all the actually exiting drivers behind them. Sure, these drivers are mostly from Vancouver, which is probably punishment enough, but then again, why are they in such a hurry to get home?

Christmas at the Zoo: Seriously? Have you seen this place? Sitting on some of the most expensive retail real estate in Portland, between Burnside and Everett on Northwest 23rd Avenue, this store somehow stays in business year-round selling nothing but Christmas ornaments with animal themes. It’s still better than another Pottery Barn.

Crocs: Wake up, Portland. Grown men are wandering our streets in brightly colored rubber slippers, and everyone acts like it’s OK. Crocs look like some Birkenstocks knocked up a pair of ’80s ski boots. But if you want to putter around the house or garden in Crocs, fine. We’re not sure why you’d want to wear pastel toy clogs instead of, say, grown-up shoes, but that’s your business. However, please don’t leave your property. And for God’s sake do not go out to eat. Portland restaurants may be lax on the dress code, but if you’re eating dinner in a pair of periwinkle plastic slip-ons, it better be in a sanitarium cafeteria where the suicide watch confiscated your laces.

Wraps: The burrito was not created at random. Its sublime combination of flavor and texture is the result of centuries of epicurial evolution. Or perhaps intelligent design. Hippies, what did burritos ever do to you? Nothing, and yet you meddling burnouts, in an unholy alliance with carb Nazis, are adulterating these delicious gifts from Hay-Seuss Christo one “wrap” at a time. It’s Dios’ will that tortillas come in corn and flour. There’s no need to involve spinach and sun-dried tomatoes. And adding peanut sauce or Caesar dressing or hummus is outright sacrilege. Burritos are divine, delicately balanced life-sustainers, not excuses to roll up leftovers when all your forks are dirty.

Cycling caps: Biker gear began infiltrating Portland fashion with messenger bags, and to be fair, those seatbelt shoulder straps are actually pretty cool. And if an alarming number of men like to wear capri pants, well, different strokes. But when tiny-billed cycling caps become trendy, it’s time to take a stand. Did you just rob a Tee-Ball team, or were you worried we wouldn’t realize just how into your fixie you are?

Restaurant wait times: Once upon a time, only old people with long, purposeless days ate dinner before 6 pm. And for their trouble, they got early-bird discounts and plenty of time to make it home and fall asleep in front of the CBS Evening News. But in Portland, dinnertime for young and old is starting earlier and earlier as foodies compete for tables at reservation-shunning restaurants of the moment. Long known for crowded patios in weather anything short of a monsoon, Portland is increasingly famous for its cuisine. However, lining up under an icy shitdrizzle in the dead of winter (or, as we’re now calling it, late March) at 4:30 in the afternoon just to claim a table at hot spots like Apizza Scholls and Toro Bravo is just acting senile.

Cheater pints: Ever notice how your beer seems to run out too fast? That’s not just your alcoholism talking—bars all over Portland are shorting patrons who order “pints.” Instead of pouring the standard 16 ounces, pound-foolish pubs such as Lucky’s and hipster darling the Sandy Hut serve scaled-down glasses with thicker walls that hold just 14 ounces. To all but the veteran drunk, these cheater pints can be hard to spot without a regulation glass for comparison. So if you’re suspicious, order a tallboy and ask for a glass. If you fill your “pint” without completely draining the can, you’re in a den of cheap assholes. To understand just how cheap, let’s do the math: Even the most expensive microbrew kegs cost only about $120 wholesale, while a keg of PBR runs more like $65. A keg holds 124 pints, which means even top-shelf beer costs bars less than a dollar a pint, or about 6 cents an ounce. That drops to 3 cents an ounce for the cheap stuff. It’s not that cheater pint-serving bars think your goodwill isn’t worth a dime, they just don’t think it’s worth 12 cents.

Portland Beavers ticket prices: Seats start at $8 a pop and jump to $14 if you don’t want a sharp edge for your back support while you watch minor-league never-weres and the occasional prospect who’s in town just long enough to make it clear how mediocre the rest of the team is. Ticket prices are especially steep considering PGE Park never seems to get more than a quarter full, and the team isn’t even the most popular group of baseball-playing Beavers in Oregon. Meanwhile, in Seattle, Safeco’s center-field bleachers are only $7. Sure, Seattle is a drive, but the Mariners are, you know, a major-league team.

Portland Craigslist rental ads: As if Portland’s spiking rents weren’t bad enough, now ambitious local landlords, far gone on paint fumes and Portland real-estate hype, are spinning wild tales and passing them off as online rental ads. On Craigslist, Southeast 181st Avenue and Powell Boulevard is “Inner SE,” crumbling ’70s triplexes are “vintage flats” and any asbestos-sided shitbox with its own entrance is a “townhouse.” Charming, cozy and quaint = tiny; “central city” means somewhere in Multnomah County; and “minutes from downtown” means Canada. Not to mention that some unholy hack coined the adjective “Pearl-esque,” which gets applied to every fly-by-night excuse for a condo from Gresham to Woodburn. Though maybe “Pearl-esque” is an apt description for these far-flung housing developments—they are overhyped, overpriced and not really part of Portland.


The University of Oregon’s plans for the “Made in Oregon” sign: Portland wept when our three-story neon “White Stag” was slain in 1997, but we’ve grown used to, even fond of, the “Made in Oregon” sign that replaced it. Brand name or not, there’s a certain fittingness to those words reflecting off the Willamette. But now, for its new Portland campus, the University of Oregon has taken over the entire White Stag Block, and there are rumors afoot the school has plans for the sign perched atop it. This comes fresh off the university’s sports implosion. First came the Ducks football team’s midseason freefall from national championship hopefuls to the unranked half of the Paxil Consolation Bowl—or whatever podunk contest they wound up in. Then, last month, the Ducks’ basketball team’s first-round loss begged for the title of “Worst-Coached Team in College Basketball.” So what’s the sign going to say, “Sorry”? Or maybe, “You’re fired, Ernie Kent.” Hell, it’ll probably just be a giant Nike Swoosh. God help them if there’s no light-up nose come Christmas.

Using public schools as liberal credentials: This is a nod to all those rich white Dems on the inner east side who lord the diversity of their kids’ school over their westside cronies, as if those black and/or poor classmates existed solely to assuage white guilt. Slapping an Obama sticker on the Lexus hybrid does not bridge the racial divide, especially if your main interest in “diverse” public schools is how enlightened it makes you look.


MAKE your own “Kvetch This” photo—or video link—and send it to kvetch@wweek.com. We’ll post the best ones here.
 
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